Brexit has arrived and musicians are furious at being misled by the government following months of negotiations. Days after the government accused the EU of rejecting a deal for touring musicians, The Independent has reported that the government refused the deal, prioritising, “ending freedom of movement.” A government spokesperson has denied the claims but musicians have lashed out. A petition calling for visa free travel has gained more than 200,000 signatures including Dua Lipa, Ronan Keating and Laura Marling and are now waiting on a debate in parliament. 

Touring has become a vital part of a musicians income. In the classical sector alone, orchestras made £14.4m in foreign tours in 2019. More than half of this came from tours in Europe, with three-quarters of those tours taking place in Europe. In addition to being financially beneficial, tours have been used to ease political tensions between countries, such as when Wham visited Beijing in 1984, the first western pop group to play in China, or more recently the London Symphony Orchestra launching various projects in Japan as part of the October UK-Japan trade deal. Tours not only showcase UK talent on the world stage; they encourage understanding and allow people to connect without even speaking the same language.

Before Brexit, musicians were able to move around Europe freely. While touring was expensive, it was possible to recover these costs and still make a profit. Following Brexit, musicians will now need a visa for each country as well as work permits, proof of savings and a sponsorship certificate. Each country has its own requirements and its own levels of proof. Furthermore, musicians will be limited as to what merchandise they will be allowed to sell, further limiting their income. To put this into context, a band of six on a four day tour in three different countries would cost nearly £3,500. As music manager Ellie Giles told NME, “it was tough but now it’s made it TWICE as bad”.

To say that musicians were disappointed by The Independents revelations is a wild understatement. For the past nine months, the world has turned to music to get through the pandemic, with record breaking streaming online and more than 155m albums being bought or streamed. But despite the huge demand for music, the government has blocked every opportunity for musicians to earn an income from the craft they have spent a lifetime honing. From being excluded from government support schemes to being told they’re not “viable”, to delaying the opening of venues in preference of other less financially beneficial sectors, musicians have continually been left in the dark. With every opportunity, the government has struck down the opportunity for musicians to simply earn a living. Is it any wonder that musicians are moving abroad or simply abandoning their profession.

During the Let Music Live protests in October, musicians have warned of a “cultural desert” if the government failed to support musicians. That desert is fast approaching. As we approach one year since the first lockdown, we reach one year of musicians being unable to perform, unable to teach in person, unable to work with care homes and hospitals, unable to perform at wedding, funerals, unable to deliver music therapy or outreach programmes. Musicians cannot have spent the last year battling to survive this pandemic only to lose a huge part of their income. They have been told to adapt and every time they have done so with flying colours. The government needs to focus on the facts. Music makes money. It contributed £5.2 billion to the economy in 2018. The government should be supporting this. Fail to do so, and that money may disappear.

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Carol Jones

Carol Jones writes 'The Good Grief Notes' column for the Oxford Blue, where she also writes about culture and women's rights. She studies DPhil Music Composition at St Catherine's and works as a freelance...