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How the UK’s music scene would suffer through a no-deal Brexit

As Theresa May’s Brexit plan lays in tatters at her feet after the recent meeting of EU leaders in Salzburg, a no-deal situation feels much more likely than before. Should the UK leave the EU with no withdrawal agreement established and nothing confirmed about future relationship, the shockwaves will be felt across almost every industry in the UK.

To find out how this would impact music fans in the real sense, Far Out Magazine contacted Damon Culbert, political commentator for the Immigration Advice Service and specialist immigration lawyers London, to run us through it.

The Tier 2 Work Visa

For the Confederation of British Industry, the issues that they feel could arise have been laid out in their latest Brexit report, ‘Open and Controlled’. For the creative industry, there’s a great deal of issues. A huge percentage of creatives identify as self-employed (up to 70% in music and performing arts) and, while it’s been confirmed that Europeans already here can definitely stay, any new self-employed Europeans won’t qualify. If the UK keeps its immigration system the same post-Brexit, the Tier 2 Work Visa route will not be accessible to self-employed workers in the music industry.  

The Tier 2 Visa route also has a minimum income requirement of at least £30,000, meaning low-skilled and low-paid workers will not be eligible. The CBI observes that huge projects such as Glastonbury would be impossible without the important work of casual European workers. Without access to the single market, we would have less security guards, bar staff and stage hands.

To the horror of the CBI, another report, commissioned by the Home Office, by the Migration Advisory Committee stated that there was no need to extend our work visa system to lower-skilled workers. If the government take this advice, festivals could take a huge post-Brexit hit.

Future of festivals

For Glastonbury, a no-deal Brexit would mean not only a loss of casual workers but also most likely a rise in the ticket price. The iconic festival has a turnover of £37million but a profit of just £86,000, equivalent to just 50p a ticket. If European artists can’t travel over without a visa, and additional charges for touring carnets for their gear, they will have to increase their rate. Festivals will have to pass the price hikes onto their audiences or be unable to invite them.

On the other hand, this could give a big boost to other British musicians who would be available to fill the slots. The concept of Brexit has brought the music industry together already so maybe this solidarity will extend beyond Brexit day next year. Up and coming British musicians will still mourn the loss of opportunity that comes with the single market as shoestring budget tours will likely no longer be affordable. This will of course extend both ways, meaning a less diverse music scene across the UK.

Though it may seem like the music industry is at the back of the government’s mind as the EU continues to hold the upper hand and the cabinet ministers scramble around desperately looking for a solution, UK festivals bring in up to £4.4 billion each year for the economy. Aside from this, festivals are such a huge part of British culture that nobody would be happy to see diminished. 823,000 Europeans came last year as music tourists. If free movement ends, these visitors will most likely opt for events on the continent, like the ever-growing Benicassim or Tomorrowland.

Touring too expensive

As previously mentioned, touring artists will struggle with a no-deal Brexit as visa expenses and touring carnets – documents to report all equipment travelling with artists – will push up travel costs greatly. Non-EU musicians must already apply for a Standard Visitor Visa when coming to tour the UK at a cost of £93 per person. These visas are notorious for unfounded rejections, which this year saw attendees at the Edinburgh book festival humiliated by the level of evidence the Home Office required before they would grant them entry.

Theresa May’s initial plan was to allow EU citizens to be non-visa nationals, allowing them to visit for up to six months without a visa. But, as her Chequers proposal was gunned down mercilessly, the British government can only hope that the EU will honour this in the interest of their citizens as well as ours. This will take a great deal of trust which, sadly, we may not have the benefit of going forward.

Should British musicians have to charge extra for their tickets on the continent, their popularity with European audiences could fall. This would only further devalue the British music scene and could threaten its long-standing reputation. As Berlin has begun edging out London as the European ‘capital of cool’, the cultural value of British music may begin to falter as we become an independent nation.

Further no-deal plans continue to ratchet up ‘Project Fear’ as information about planes being grounded and meat exports no longer being accepted is released. With an almost unanimous vote to remain, Britain’s musicians will not be happy to hear the government’s plans. Hopefully, the industry will stand up in solidarity but the government will have to ensure that they consider the needs of music or it’s goodbye Glastonbury.

Damon Culbert.