For the last month, the battle of Brexit may have seemed to some like the most rabid battle of wits and parliamentary prowess, while to others it has felt like the quiet disappointment of playing a game of swingball with yourself.
The government has no majority for any kind of progress past its shattering defeats and the EU vehemently insists that there will be no more negotiation past what they have already hammered out. Ireland remains a thorn in Theresa May’s side and both benches in Westminster take turns to make sure she is kneecapped one day and bolstered the next. The constant tossing and turning of ministers makes it certain that nobody can be sure just what our country will look like with less than 60 days until Brexit day. The reality of a no-deal exit becomes more tangible every day and for those in the music industry, there are unique challenges which come with this possibility that must first be addressed and then overcome.
The music industry brought in £4.5 billion to the UK economy in 2017, with live concerts providing £1 billion of that total. Tourists from around the world come to the UK for everything from Glastonbury to Wembley Stadium, Europe’s second largest stadium venue. The government’s immigration white paper which finally arrived late last year paints a grim picture for EU citizens hoping to tour here in the event of no deal.
The music industry is comprised of 70% self-employed workers and 131,000 workers hold a European passport. Europeans already in the UK will be able to continue working in self-employed positions but those who come after a no deal exit will need to apply for a work visa. Currently, Tier 2 Visa restrictions don’t allow self-employed workers to apply as they are based on sponsorship from employers.
A no deal exit
A no deal exit would mean all potential new music industry workers classified as self-employed will no longer be able to come to the UK and conduct work. This could cause a serious talent gap to emerge over the next few years if left unresolved. The music industry has asked that the government implement a special visa route to ensure that all work continues smoothly after March. However, since the Home Office has been so resistant to change in other areas, such as the minimum wage and sponsorship requirements for Tier 2 Visas, this is highly unlikely to come into effect any time soon.
Additionally, the implementation of work visa restrictions to all citizens of the EU will mean that the 1000’s of casual workers in the hospitality sector won’t qualify for visas. This could majorly affect our festivals and venues as casual staff are essential to their smooth operation. Losing EU security workers and bar staff could mean that smaller gigs and festivals are severely damaged should there not be enough interest domestically to fill the gaps left by Europeans.
On the other hand, this could potential provide more job opportunities for British people, but casual work is unreliable and may not be very appealing to a great number of domestic workers. This also doesn’t into account the fact that bar staff and security guards still have work-specific skills that may take a long time to train, adding administrative costs to any overall budget.
In addition to the increase in administration, the cost of visas will create a barrier for up and coming performers. Musicians will need to apply for visas up to three months in advance for just six months at a time and must pay for their visas as well as potentially for touring carnets – certificates which state all the equipment, etc. which is travelling to the UK. This will be detrimental to lesser-known European performers as they struggle to cobble together the money to tour anyway. Small and undiscovered acts – those who have always looked forward to UK tours in the past – may have to skip the UK in favour of cheaper shows on the continent.
“Not only is this a sad injustice towards European entertainers who deserve the chance to share their art but will be a bitter pill to swallow for British fans looking forward to seeing their favourite acts, most commonly sharing intimate spaces at the early stages of their careers.”
A no deal exit would also mean that there will be no agreed travel arrangements for British artists. Our own young talent will be left at the mercy of each member state’s legislation unless an agreement can be reached. What was once a simple hop across the channel which could lead to touring dates across 27 other countries will now likely be hamstringed and indie performers could be forced to pick and choose which countries to visit if at all.
Besides the admin issues, European artists will not be pleased to know that they will be joining a visa system which regularly devalues artists’ abilities and arbitrarily denies them entry even if they are sponsored and scheduled to perform. In summer last year, authors attending Edinburgh Book Festival were denied entry with claims that the government was unsure that they would return home after their engagements. Similarly, African artists rejected invitations to perform at WOMAD rather than be subjected to the ‘humiliating’ UK visa process. If the government can be so insistent for months on charging European citizens £65 to keep the lives they’ve built in the country only to turn in the opposite direction with months to go before everything must be set in motion, the music industry doesn’t have much hope.
While it may seem all doom and gloom, nothing is certain yet. However, the shoddy performance the government has given in almost every aspect over the past two years doesn’t fill me with confidence for an independent future…
This article was written by Damon Culbert, political commentator for the Immigration Advice Service, leading immigration lawyers UK. Find out more information here.