The first 100 days of the post-Brexit era has been a “disaster” for the British music industry and the government has made almost no progress in addressing problems raised by visas, customs and other controls, a wide-ranging new survey of the industry has found.
The research by the Incorporated Society of Musicians, the body that represents the UK’s professional musicians, tour operators and manufacturers, found that 94 per cent of respondents had been negatively affected by the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.
Less than one in 10 music businesses said government guidance was “adequate” in helping to navigate the new obstacles the deal had imposed on the industry, including so-called “cabotage” restrictions on touring vehicles and expensive “carnets” that touring musicians now needed in order to import equipment into the EU.
“We have clear evidence that the first 100 days of the Brexit Trade Deal have been a disaster for music businesses,” said Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians. She urged the government to do more to help the industry.
In March, Boris Johnson told MPs that he shared the frustrations of a sector worth more than £5bn a year to the UK economy and promised to “fix it.”
But the ISM said the survey was clear evidence the industry had “not witnessed any real progress” to deliver on the prime minister’s pledge.
Last week, Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, admitted under questioning from MPs that bilateral negotiations with individual EU member states to find ways to ease restrictions for touring musicians and other parts of the industry had yet to begin.
Under the terms of the trade deal, British musicians who were previously free to travel and work in the bloc must now navigate a complex web of 27 different EU migration systems and visa requirements.
Dowden told MPs that some form of visa-free touring would be allowed in 17 member states, including France and Germany. But he said, other countries had specific requirements for non-EU performers, such as Portugal which required them to undergo criminal record checks. In Spain, each musician must a pay fees of €600 per person, per night to perform, which has already led to the cancellation of tours.
The government said it had always been clear that the end of freedom of movement “would have implications for professional mobility” and it was important to check each EU member state rules before travelling.
Jake Bright, a freelance composer and music director currently working in France, said the UK government guidance had been close to “non-existent” and had been referred to EU consulates for most issues.
Bright said he had spent £1,500 on visa advisers in order to obtain a visa in case his current contract required him to stay beyond the 90 days in every 180 days that the French rules allow him to work visa-free. But the “just in case” application was rejected on the grounds that it was not for a firm commitment.
He blamed the wasted money on a lack of clear information. “I’m now faced with a situation where if I’m needed for longer, I need to fly home and apply again, a process that could take a month. That’s not tenable,” he added.
Other chronic issues facing musicians include the need for a £360 carnet to temporarily import equipment into the EU, including a deposit of 30 to 40 per cent of the value of all the tour equipment, from instruments to stages and sounds equipment.
For big touring companies, the ISM said, this could create “huge additional costs” that would render tours unviable. More than 40 per cent of members surveyed said the carnets would have a “negative” or “very negative” impact on their businesses.
Tarrant Anderson, a director at Vans for Bands, the UK’s largest passenger transport company for the music industry that works with some of the biggest names in rock, told the ISM survey that many grass root acts “would be unable to afford the additional costs” of the carnets.
As well as customs and border delays, the other major hurdle for the touring industry was so-called “cabotage” restrictions, which now limit the number of stops and countries a UK-registered truck can make after crossing into the EU.
Some 85 per cent of respondents to the ISM survey that operate tours in the EU, said the cabotage limits would cause “moderate” or “severe disruption” for their business.