What does Brexit mean for UK musicians?

Startling new survey from the Incorporated Society of Musicians reveals grave concerns about post-Brexit life for guitarists and musicians of all kinds.

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The Brexit negotiations may be rumbling on far longer than originally planned, but a new survey conducted by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) has revealed that musicians are already feeling negative effects from the UK’s planned departure from the European Union.

The ISM surveyed professional musicians in the UK to compile its newly published report, The Impact Of Brexit On Musicians, in which 50 per cent of respondents had identified an impact on their work resulting from the referendum and ongoing negotiations relating to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

As is perhaps inevitable, touring musicians seem to have been the heaviest hit, with 63 per cent of those identifying an impact reporting that they’re struggling to secure future bookings in EU27/EEA countries, while 55 per cent have noticed increased difficulty securing bookings since the June 2016 Brexit vote.

As one survey respondent commented: “I used to get lots of offers of work from EU countries. This has virtually dried up since the referendum.”

However, it’s not just booking tours in Europe that could potentially cause problems, with concerns about visas, health insurance and the transportation of instruments also at the forefront of the respondents’ minds.

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With 83 per cent of respondents visiting the EU27 at least once a year for work, the planned end to free movement has raised questions about how much more difficult future touring will become without government action, or as one respondent put it: “Brexit creates doubt about the need for visas and their cost which directly affects the viability of concerts.”

Health insurance is also a huge issue – 77 per cent of the musicians surveyed currently rely on the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) while working in the EU. The future ability of UK citizens to utilise this post-Brexit is still unclear, while 68 per cent of respondents say they would not be able to afford private healthcare should the EHIC be withdrawn.

Image: Kristina Kohanova / EyeEm

Transporting your gear

An issue that’s of particular concern to guitar players is the transportation of instruments and equipment, with more than half of respondents (58 per cent) reported that they were concerned about the transportation of instruments and/or equipment in the EU27 and EEA in the future.

Key to this are the oft-discussed CITES restrictions – currently instruments containing woods on the CITES list (notably rosewood) can move through any UK port or airport.

Post-Brexit, any goods with CITES restricted woods would have to travel through one of 10 CITES-designated ports and airports, which crucially doesn’t currently include the hugely important ports of Dover and Holyhead, or the Channel Tunnel.

Not only would musicians be limited in the way they can get their instruments abroad, then, but getting CITES certification for instruments could be hugely problematic – especially in the case of vintage guitars.

As one respondent put it: “Some of my instruments include woods in the CITES list. The makers seem baffled by the complex process of providing documentation to enable them to travel – it seems impossible in many cases to document decades-old wood purchases.”

Even if you don’t have guitars with CITES issues, simply getting your equipment abroad will add significant costs to touring overseas. The ending of free movement of goods could see the reintroduction of a ‘carnet’ – a temporary international customs document that allows goods, including instruments and sound equipment, to move temporarily outside the UK.

Not only would these carnets be costly (they currently cost £325.85 plus a security deposit for a one-year carnet), but as they would have to presented at customs upon entry and exit to the EU – and potentially post-Brexit, for each individual EU country – they could be extremely disruptive to touring bands.

One respondent recalls: “I remember the bad old days of queuing to complete carnets on borders. I foresee severe time-consuming expense.”

What can be done?

The ISM’s report certainly paints a bleak picture of post-Brexit life for touring guitarists and for people who want to take their instruments into the EU27/EEA, but thankfully there are solutions and recommendations laid out by the report that would ease these concerns.

Among the suggestions are either retaining freedom of movement for members of the music profession, or introducing a low-cost, low-hassle two-year musician’s visa, an expansion of CITES-designated ports to include the vital crossings into the EU, and for the government to clarify and provide clear guidance on the post-Brexit CITES regulations.

All of these suggestions would go a long way to alleviating the concerns of professional guitarists and musicians, but as with everything else about the Brexit process, the picture is unlikely to become clear until the larger issues are resolved.

Check out the ISM’s report to read a full list of its concerns and recommendations.

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