By limiting freedom of movement, the Brexit deal will make careers in music even harder to sustainUnsplash/Samuel Regan-Asante

Sir Elton John has described it as “ridiculous.” Artists from Ed Sheeran to Sir Simon Rattle signed an open letter in which said that they had been “shamefully failed.” The petition for the government to negotiate for visa-free travel for music touring professionals has over 284,000 signatures. It was debated in parliament on the 8th February. In this debate, it was confirmed that the lack of a deal was because the paid activities the EU was willing to allow to be conducted without a visa “might include ad hoc performances” – apparently rather than touring. This is obviously concerning when touring makes far more money than its paltry cousin, streaming, as well as its huge value in terms of experience, of building a following, and of learning how to perform.


READ: The Parliamentary Debate on Visa-Free Travel for Musicians (Full Transcript)

The petition to allow visa-free travel was debated by MPs on the 8th February (source)


While the Chair of the debate cited one band who felt that “New rules will mean we, as a band, will never be able to afford to play in Europe again,” Jack Martin,  drummer of Walt Disco (a Scottish glam-punk band), told me “We’re definitely determined not to let Brexit stop us from going ahead with our abroad plans this year.” They have a tour scheduled in Spain this year, dependent on Covid rather than Brexit. Yet, it is going to be more complicated. As Jack wrote, “In 2019 we were able to drive straight to Eindhoven through France and Belgium in a day just with our passports, but now it’s going to be more like the more complicated and expensive process of going somewhere like the States.” 

“For musicians who don’t work in bands, but on the touring rotation of classical music, this is ruinous”

This is the issue. As a band, Walt Disco are able to consider this – on a tight margin. For many bands, it's too tight. For musicians who don’t work in bands, but on the touring rotation of classical music, this is ruinous. Joseph Middleton, classical pianist and resident musician at Pembroke College, explained in the Guardian that a work trip to Spain is now going to be an extra £600 in visa costs. In the Petitions witness statements on the 4th February, Anna Patalong (an operatic soprano) explained that all of her profits come from touring, including ‘jump-ins’. With 50% of her career based in the EU, she faces costly – and time consuming – visa processes. Bad enough for established musicians, this could be career destroying for young classical musicians in Britain.

The deal also reportedly did not include any provisions for touring or technical staff. These staff, and their equipment, are hugely important in the touring industry; no show can go on without technicians and engineers. For them, being cut out of the touring schedule on the continent is a particular issue. Tim Brennan, creator of the original petition spoke in the witness session, and cited an American company that he had previously worked as saying “we can’t use you anymore because the extra red tape is going to amount to too much.” Technicians who would previously have been on the road, moving from one tour to the next, would not only not be able to do that, but would also lose out on the phenomenon whereby US companies would hire them for the European leg of the tour and then, if things went well, keep them on for the Australian or the South American leg. For Brenna, the EU part is “that crucial part – where they first meet us,” and losing out on it means losing out on jobs worldwide.


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This article has so far been concerned with UK artists travelling to the EU, but the law of music and of culture has always been one of exchange and mix. Although Glastonbury 2021 has been cancelled this year, with other big festivals likely to follow, there is no doubt that the cultural scene in the UK benefits hugely from EU artists. As Jamie Stone, MP pointed out during the debate, “Would the Edinburgh Festival be what it is without the international performers who come and play?”

The ministerial response was predictably unsatisfying. Caroline Dinenage, the Minister for Digital and Culture, said that the EU proposals were rejected not only because of their failure to reflect the importance of touring, and of technical staff, but also because “any future EU member” as well and this was “simply not consistent with the manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders.” Her response cited the music industry as something vital for “our entertainment and our enjoyment”. However, it made no mention of either its major economic benefits or its international ‘soft power’, something highlighted by a number of other ministers. An industry which contributed £5.8billion to the UK economy has not just been forgotten about, it has been devastated. As London loses its title as the centre of financial trading in Europe, what more can Britain afford to lose?