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Many British musicians fear that Brexit will reduce their ability to travel easily and cheaply around Europe for work. Francesca Treadaway calls for action to protect their livelihoods.

A photo of two violinists looking into the distance
Concerto Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi e la Verdi Barocca

Since the results of the referendum in 2016, the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) has researched the impact of the UK’s impending departure from the EU on the music profession. In October last year we launched our campaign Save Music with a video and petition calling for freedom of movement to be protected for musicians. And in May, we published our fourth report examining the Impact of Brexit on Musicians, building on the evidence base from three previous surveys conducted since 2016.

Global dominance

The UK’s music industry, which contributes about £4.5bn a year to our economy, is globally dominant and an important part of our creative industries. Music is central to our place in the world, from our national orchestras to Ed Sheeran, Adele and many other household names. The UK is today one of the few net exporters of music worldwide – one in eight albums bought worldwide in 2017 was by a British artist – generating billions of pounds in exports. 

More than one in ten respondents reported that offers of work have been withdrawn or cancelled with Brexit given as a reason

The music profession has a high proportion of self-employed, freelance and portfolio musicians who will be affected by any reduction in freedoms of movement, goods and services. The music profession is already struggling with poor rates of pay, and if opportunities for work in the EU27/EEA continue to fall because of Brexit there will be doubts about the sustainability of the music profession.

Dependence on Europe

The results of our research demonstrate how much the music workforce depends on EU27/EEA countries for professional work, and reveals concerns about the future as the UK prepares to leave the EU. The headlines from the report include:

  • Almost 50% of respondents identified an impact on their professional work since the EU referendum result in 2016, 95% of whom said it was negative. The 50% figure has increased from 19% in 2016, 26% in 2017 and 40% in 2018.
  • 63% of respondents cited difficulty in securing future work in EU27/EEA countries as the biggest issue they face due to Brexit – and more than one in ten respondents reported that offers of work have been withdrawn or cancelled with Brexit given as a reason.
  • 85% of survey respondents visit the EU27 for work at least once a year, 22% visit the EU27/EEA more than 11 times a year and more than a third (35%) spend at least a month a year working in EU27/EEA countries.
  • One in seven musicians have less than a week’s notice between being offered work and having to take it.
  • 64% of survey respondents said a two-year, multi-entry visa would allay their concerns about their future ability to work in the EU27/EEA if freedom of movement rights were lost.
  • 95% of respondents preferred the two-year visa over an extension of the Permitted Paid Engagement visa.
  • 83% of respondents said it would be beneficial for a government department (such as Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) to provide a dedicated hotline for musicians to offer guidance on mobility issues.
  • More than half of respondents (58%) reported they were concerned about the transportation of instruments or equipment in the EU27 and EEA in the future.

The conclusion we draw is that the livelihoods of musicians depends on the ability to travel easily and cheaply around multiple countries for work. If freedom of movement is to end, the Government must ensure that free movement rights are maintained for musicians, or introduce a two-year, multi-entry visa for British musicians working in the EU27.

We can also see just how much the music workforce relies on UK/EU mechanisms, such as the EHIC scheme for health cover and A1 certificate for national insurance to support and enable them to work in the EU27/EEA. 

At a time of great uncertainty, musicians need to know their jobs in Europe will be secure once the UK leaves the EU. Therefore, we call for the Government to take action, using the recommendations outlined in our report to protect the livelihoods of musicians and the all-important music and wider creative industries.

Francesca Treadaway is Senior Communications and Public Affairs Manager at ISM.

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Photo of Francesca Treadaway