This week, following the finalisation of Brexit, the UK Government rejected an offer of visa-free tours for UK artists who wish to play in the EU, and vice versa. Despite a petition circulating with over 250,000 signatures (signed by highly acclaimed artists like The Charlatan’s Tim Burgess and Laura Marling) the Conservatives have made no serious moves to suggest how they might reverse the decision.
But what does this mean for artists and the industry as a whole?
The UK’s music industry is one that generates billions for the economy: £5.8 billion to be exact, with the creative arts industry at large totaling £101.5 billion of income. Clearly, any disruption to this figure is a foolish and depraved act from our government, but of course this move is so much more than that. As if the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the industry wasn’t enough, this latest announcement feels like a kick in the teeth to all industry professionals. More so still to those who can’t afford to deal with the consequences of the government’s repeatedly classist and neglectful actions.
Industry-funded body UK Music explained what the Tories' decision meant: “any restriction on movement across Europe could result in the introduction of a carnet, a temporary customs document...[costing] around £1,000 to £2,000. EU bands coming to the UK may also be subject to this.” Essentially, what this means is that those bands wishing to tour Europe are taking a huge loss out of their earnings, which makes the viability of these tours questionable altogether. It also means that those smaller acts who can’t afford these carnets at all will be unable to tour outside of the UK, disappointing many international fans and curtailing their careers.
The further impact of this is a feeling of separation between fan and artist, something that dissolves when you’re at a live show. If bands and artists aren’t able to connect with their wider audience, this could massively affect their sales figures with regards to music and merchandise – making the decision one that affects the enjoyment of art, the income for bands and the overall UK economy.
Photo: James Baker
This decision is also a massive detriment to our ability to discover new and exciting art/talent as the general public. Just last year I saw VANT on his UK tour and discovered Magnetic Spacemen, an incredible, underground psych-grunge band from Amsterdam who supported him. It’s safe to assume that with these new restrictions it’ll be next-to-impossible for acts like this to hop across the channel and play to a UK audience as they did before Brexit.
The news of Boris’ refusal came as a shock to all in the industry. Tom Rhodes, guitarist of Birmingham punk rock band The Novus, had this to say: “I think that it’s direct action taken from the government who have spent a great amount of energy and time suppressing arts...music is an expression, a freedom and a way that people can think for themselves. To me, this is a way to numb what we have, and make it incredibly difficult for artists without money to make it in any way.”
He went on to add “the only way things can work is if the music and arts community pull together and shows the country and the world what they’re worth and how much it really matters to people.”
The Musician’s Union also stated, “we are angry and alarmed at reports that our own elected representatives chose to turn down an EU offer of visa-free tours by British musicians” and are in talks with MPs to ask the government about this, and for “genuine support” for musicians who feel left behind 10 months into the Covid-19 pandemic.
It’s been made abundantly clear from the moment we first went into lockdown back in March 2020, that the arts and entertainment sector is one that is constantly disregarded by the government despite it’s overwhelming contribution to the economy, and arguably having been the main thing helping people through this difficult time. Without TV, film, music, art, the lockdown would have been far more unbearable than it already was. Yet, the government still responds by driving that nail harder into the coffin and restricting the arts further. No financial support for venues or industry professionals and removing our freedom of movement around neighbouring countries. Where does it end?
If you want to help UK musicians tour the EU in the future, please contact your MP and ask them to put pressure on the government to rethink this. Thanks https://t.co/gPqtjy6clk— Andy Bell (@Andybebop) January 10, 2021
Unforgivable https://t.co/O5JliVRca4— Ronan Keating (@ronanofficial) January 10, 2021
What can you do?
Artist manager María Epelde has put together a template that you can use to email your local MP. Find it here.
Sign the petition here.