It is really beginning to hit home that Boris Johnson’s botched Brexit deal has been devastating to the UK’s creative industries. Getting the deal done quickly was prioritised over getting it right and so many things were left out of negotiations – even less contentious issues where compromises could have been found. This slapdash approach has needlessly undermined some of our key strengths. 

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport estimates that the creative industries contribute £115.9bn to the UK, accounting for 5.9 per cent of our economic output. This is economically significant (fishing was discussed far more in recent years yet that industry contributes just £536 million) but the arts are more important than economic figures. The UK is a cultural dynamo, a hugely influential creative superpower, and we should want this to continue. 

The negative impact on the music industry of being ignored in Brexit negotiations has been devastating. The Independent Society of Musicians (ISM) carried out a survey that shows that almost half of UK musicians and workers in the music industry have had less work in the EU since Brexit than before it, and more than a quarter have had no EU work at all. 

The ISM conducted extensive testimony sessions with over 400 musicians and industry professionals, gathering insights regarding their post-Brexit experiences. Forty percent of respondents reported work cancellations, while nearly an equal proportion, 39 per cent, stated they had been compelled to decline work opportunities.

The Independent Commission on UK-EU Relations has similar findings in our report on the impact of the Brexit deal on the wider creative sector. The most frequently cited extra expense and complication has been the introduction of visas and work permits, plus the cost of equipment manifests known as “carnets”. These are customs permits that allow the vehicles to be taken across borers, and it is now piled on to various other new travel expenses that performers didn’t have to contend with before. 

According to Sarah McQuaid, a singer, songwriter and composer: “Completing the required inventory of all the gear we carry, which includes a full PA system as well as instruments and other associated tech, took days as every item had to be individually listed with its replacement value and (if applicable) serial number.”

For McQuaid, the total cost of the carnet, including a 12-month security bond to cover £15,333 of gear, “came to £379.25.”

UK professionals no longer enjoy the same ease of travel, touring, and exhibiting in Europe. Touring now entails navigating through 27 distinct sets of visa and work permit regulations. Additionally, creatives and technical workers face the constraint of a 90-day limit on their presence in the Schengen area within a 180-day period.

Transporting goods and equipment has become needlessly intricate and costly. For less well-funded creatives, the associated expenses and administrative burdens are overwhelming. The existing system mandates the use of equipment manifests referred to as ‘carnets’ for the transportation of equipment and large instruments into the EU.

Even a brief one-time event or performance necessitates a costly and time-consuming carnet. Each truck must report to the correct border location for carnet inspection and stamping when crossing the border in both directions. This has a devastating impact on small to medium-sized bands, musicians, and theatre groups, potentially absorbing all the profits generated from a tour.

Merchandise sales are often what renders a tour financially viable. These sales are now subject to customs regulations applicable to shipments into the EU exceeding a certain value. Creatives must now register and pay VAT in each country, adhering to different regulations, resulting in additional paperwork, border inspections, duties, and charges.

According to David Martin, CEO of Featured Artists Coalition: “The product being sold is live performances. This includes selling merchandise but will also provide the opportunity for other things such as radio and TV, and it will proliferate further opportunities such as festival bookings. On top of that, the band develops the fan base and demand for record sales and streaming income.”

EU road haulage limitations further amplify the cost and complexity of touring for creatives and technical workers. Touring lorries are bound by the haulage restrictions outlined in the TCA, permitting a maximum of two stops in the EU after delivering goods from the UK under basic cabotage rules. Subsequently, they must return home within seven days.

“In 2019, 22 EU countries represented 154 of our 221 foreign trips, which produced £14.4 million in earned income from foreign tours,” says Mark Pemberston, former Chief Executive of the Association of British Orchestras. “Of this, £8.4 million came from touring in the EU, accounting for 9 per cent of our income for that year.”

For instance, consider the Sadler’s Wells Theatre group. Like all touring productions, they are now restricted to two additional destinations before returning to the UK, only to then proceed to two more EU cities. Previously, they could tour 12 or more European cities consecutively. Furthermore, when an orchestra intends to transport their instruments by truck, they find it more advantageous to engage an EU-registered commercial operator, resulting in UK hauliers losing business opportunities (it’s not just artists and performers losing out, but all the haulage firms, suppliers and technical workers that support them).

Brexit is hindering the ability of mobile artists, such as singers, dancers, and entertainers, to secure work within the broader arts and creative industry in the EU. For example, 31 per cent of UK Equity members (the trade union for the performing arts and entertainment industries) have encountered job advertisements and/or casting breakdowns explicitly seeking applications from EU passport holders only. Additionally, 14 per cent of members have been directly requested to confirm their EU passport status for the purpose of securing employment.

Already well-established and famous acts and artists will be able to navigate the red tape and deal with the bureaucracy: they will absorb the costs or increase their ticket prices, but lesser names will struggle, and emerging talent will be seriously hindered or perhaps blocked from finding success. Surely no Brexit supporter wanted to stifle emerging talent and strangle the career of the next [insert artist you love here]? 

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) signed by the UK and EU on 30 December 2020 did not include any specific provisions on short-term travel for creative professionals or their support staff. This was an unnecessary mistake, especially considering the EU originally suggested a visa waiver agreement, but UK negotiators rejected this as it involved a compromise on regulatory autonomy. 

Former European Commission Vice-President, Viviane Reding, proposed the adoption of a cultural passport for the creative industries; this is closer to what we at the Independent Commission on UK-EU Relations would like to see. We should aspire for the addition of a “cultural exemption” within the Trade and Co-operation Agreement: removing visa and work permit restrictions on short-term, cultural visits to the EU, replacing the burdensome carnet with a more agile system suited to the temporary movement of goods and equipment for tours and one-off events, and reducing limits on road haulage stops for all cultural activities.

Brexit is done, yes, but it isn’t working for the creative industries. Now we must work towards a process of continuous improvement. Brexit is a process, not an event, and the TCA is a foundation that must be built on to make it work. 

Ben Kelly is a member of the Independent Commission on UK-EU Relations. The Commission works to research the impact of the UK’s departure from the EU and to propose beneficial changes to the UK-EU agreement.

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