By raising a petition calling for a touring visa, the Musicians’ Union are fighting for the right of UK artists to be allowed to travel and perform across the EU. Here, the team from the MU explain why they’re calling on the government to protect the rights of creative workers in a post-Brexit world.
The MU made no secret of the fact that it was overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the European Union. We believed then, as we do now, that the benefits of remaining for musicians were overwhelming. That’s why our executive committee – the governing body of the MU – recently voted to back the People’s Vote campaign; and why we welcomed the motion passed at the recent Labour Party conference here in Liverpool, which included the option to campaign for a second referendum if Theresa May’s deal does not pass through Parliament and a general election is not called.
Nevertheless, we’re also lobbying and campaigning hard for musicians’ rights in a post-Brexit world. As the March 2019 deadline looms, there is still very little information as to what the future will look like for musicians, and this is undoubtedly a time of uncertainty and confusion for the 30,000-plus members we represent. Those members work right across the industry and in every genre, ranging from orchestras like the Liverpool Phil to contemporary artists like Natalie McCool and She Drew The Gun. While there are numerous reasons to be concerned about Brexit, one issue that’s guaranteed to impact on musicians from every genre is freedom of movement and the ability to tour and perform across Europe.
MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge summed it up recently when he said that “music and the performing arts rely on exchange of ideas and interaction between performers of different nationalities. We love working in the EU and we love artists coming over here. If musicians can’t travel easily both ways, our reputation as a country that embraces all arts and culture will be severely damaged. Our members’ ability to earn a living will also be severely affected”.
The reality is that most UK-based musicians and performers are reliant on touring and performing across the European Union to sustain their careers. Musicians, and other creative and cultural workers, are a distinct workforce with specific needs. Post-Brexit, visa and customs rules need to account for that.
After more than a year lobbying government and Parliament for freedom of movement to continue post-Brexit, the MU believes that an affordable, multi-entry, admin-light touring visa that covers all European Union member states is the best way forward to protect musicians’ right to work.
Consequently, we’re now calling on government and Parliament to introduce an EU touring visa for UK-based musicians working in the EU post-Brexit and at the time of writing, over 14,500 people have signed an online petition in support of the visa should free movement end.
Any EU touring visa must be affordable, multi-entry and admin-light. Introducing costly and resource-heavy barriers could have a severe impact on working and aspiring musicians – as well as the broader UK music industry. It should also be reciprocal so that musicians based in EU territories can include the UK in their touring plans.
Musicians already have experience with difficult visa systems. It can cost thousands to take a band to the United States, and the cost of fast-track visa processing fees has just gone up 15 per cent. Musicians have voiced their fears that something similar might happen with the European Union, to devastating effect. Any visa must also cover working in all EU member states; musicians visit multiple countries on tour, often jumping across borders on a daily basis or with very little notice. If every musician has to get a visa and carnet for every country they visit, it will make work in Europe impossible to schedule – regardless of whether that’s for an emerging band or a world-renowned orchestra.
Fortunately, there is some recognition of the problem. The House Of Lords’ European Union Home Affairs Sub-Committee reflected the Union’s position, calling for clarity on free movement post-Brexit. In a report on the movement of people in the culture sector, the Committee emphasised the “profoundly important contribution” the culture sector makes to the UK’s society, economy and international influence.
We also met recently with Margot James, the Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries where we raised the idea of a single visa that would allow entry to all EU member states and would only need to be renewed once a year. The Minister was very supportive and agreed to take the idea to the Home Office for consideration.
However, we can’t take anything for granted and, with the 29th March 2019 fast approaching, it is more important than ever that we know how musicians and performers can continue working in the EU once the United Kingdom formally leaves.
So, what can you do to help? Well, firstly you can go to change.org and sign the petition in support of the touring visa. Secondly, if you’re a musician, you might consider joining the MU. The more members we represent, the louder our voice and the greater our influence. If you’re not a musician and you love music, you can join our supporter network for free and help protect the music and musicians you love.
The whole ethos of the Trade Union movement is that we are stronger together than we are apart. Whatever happens with Brexit, you can guarantee that the MU will be leading the way in advocating for the best possible outcome and fighting for the rights of musicians everywhere.
If you support the campaign, sign the Musicians’ Union Calling for Touring Visa for Musicians Post-Brexit petition at change.org.