European Touring – is this the end for UK Musicians?

By Gabriel Dyker, Violinist and former Player Chair CBSO

As more parts of the Brexit deal emerge more fundamental problems are coming to light for many industries.

Perhaps the biggest for musicians is the question of European touring, a cultural highlight, financial gain, crucial visibility for ourselves and the areas we represent, and an important export for the UK. Indeed, the ISM’s most recent Brexit report found that 78% of UK musicians visit the EU/EEA at least once a year to perform.

This is a way of life for our £5.8 billion music industry that must not be sacrificed in a dispute over fishing rights.

A leak has emerged that suggests the UK government has been misleading about this element within the negotiations and actually rejected an EU offer of visa-free travel for musicians, instead prioritising the petty aim of keeping EU musicians from freely touring here. Is this really what Brexit voters wanted, keeping short stay musicians out?

Surely there’s no immigration risk for a 90-day touring visa?


No matter how things actually proceeded we now have a situation where European musicians will face a hurdle of fees and red tape to visit the UK, robbing our nation’s cultural life and taking away opportunities for learning and collaborating.

For UK musicians it’s more complex as there’s now a hotchpotch of different rules and regulations for each individual state. The ISM has a handy list here.

In some cases prospects are reasonable: In Belgium and France no permit is needed for 90 days, Austria 30, even in states like Czechia where performance must not exceed 7 consecutive days this may be enough to piece a tour together though paperwork requirements for tour management/operators will rocket for multi-state tours.

More worrying is the lack of options for some of our largest markets:
• Germany is currently reviewing arrangements,
• Netherlands requires a work permit,
• Italy requires a 90-day work permit and makes a qualitative judgement on the value of the performers,
• Spain requires a work visa.

These are clearly crucial markets for UK musicians.

So, what do we need to change?

We need the UK to introduce the same visa-free touring offer to European artists that many European states offer us. The UK needs to be able to enjoy the best the world has to offer, cutting ourselves off culturally benefits no one and does not help UK musicians to be the world leaders we can be.

We need access to the crucial big markets of Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Spain.

And we need that packaged together as a bilateral UK/EU agreement so we don’t have to worry about different regulations and paperwork for each state. This could be packaged as a Musicians’ Passport, as championed by the MU, or simply a change in regulations.

What can we do about it?

We’ve seen this government bow to pressure many times and in many areas. Having seemingly negotiated only for the tiny fishing sector it looks like change is necessary for the UK services sector, retail and others. In this nascent time of our Brexited UK we need to make sure our voice and our pressure is putting our need for change at the top of the list.
Musicians are already making their voices heard on social media, many high profile organisations musicians are speaking out in the press, but the most effective way to get the message across and amplify each other’s voices is with strategy and organisation:

The MU is ideally positioned to create a coherent message, lead a massive campaign, create and publicise petitions, and have it all effectively broadcast to the public and MPs again and again, until they listen. Here’s a statement from the MU website, it’s excellent but we need so much more!

This will require honest soul-searching by the MU about its campaigning over the past year including looking at what has and hasn’t worked.

We need to look at why some sectors have seen significant moves by workers towards heavier involvement in and reliance on their union’s campaigning (e.g., education),
yet in the music industry we have seen a proliferation of grassroots campaigning groups. These groups are fantastic and a testament to the will of musicians to campaign but we can’t get away from the truth that they are operating without the financial resources that the MU has, nor the skill and knowledge of the National and Regional Officials. The MU must work on developing ways to harness that desire to campaign so keenly felt by the membership and empower members accordingly.

Published by MU Members for Change

MU Members For Change is a broad and diverse coalition of members within the Musicians’ Union. It exists to facilitate communication between members; to aid the delivery of member voice to the Executive Committee; and to promote democracy within the Musicians’ Union. Enquiries should be sent to: mumembersforchange@gmail.com

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