‘Hello, Goodbye:’ The Beatles Made A Sad Sum Up Of U.K.-E.U. Negotiations Around The Exportation Of Music

For musicians, Brexit negotiations between Brussels and the U.K. turned out to be only perpetual hubbub, which would eventually fail them. Since the 1st of January, British musicians who want to tour in one or several European countries ought to sell an arm and a leg each time a customs officer comes across their path – only to very soon run out of body parts with which they can perform. An administrative, financial and time-consuming ordeal awaits them. Indeed, musicians must obtain a work permit, or visa, for each country in which they will be playing, in addition to giving a list (‘carnet’) of all the material they have that is allowed to cross borders. All of this organisation, you will have guessed, can only be possible with the help of expensive accountants and lawyers and leads to substantial costs as far as the transportation of musical gear is concerned. 

The public petition ‘Seek Europe-wide Visa-free Work Permit for Touring Professionals and Artists’ posted on the U.K. Government and Parliament website made headlines. Signed by more than 284,000 people, it followed a similar open letter endorsed by artists like Ed Sheeran or Sting. Alongside this form of protest, Sir Elton John openly spoke about the matter, raising the concerns this no-deal engenders for young unknown artists: “I don’t want to live in a world where only artists who’ve been going for decades, who’ve already sold millions, can tour properly.” He also expressed himself on the crucial effect of touring on musical creativity and inventiveness: “You won’t learn as much about live performance as you do in half an hour trying to win over an unfamiliar audience…you write better songs as a result.” In addition to this, Colin Greenwood, the bassist of Radiohead, announces his worries on U.K.-E.U. economic competition regarding British technicians in festivals: “staging, sound and lighting companies from the U.K. that drive lots of the European festivals might find it much harder to compete with E.U. alternatives.” Facing this impossibility to export, fear rules that ‘OK Computer’ will ironically only be viewable on a computer for Europeans after the pandemic. But, optimist, Joel Stanley, affirms that the music industry is the most resilient “in the world and [that it] will always make the show happen.”

However, the only show which seems to be happening today is the dialogue of the deaf formed by Brexit. On the one hand, the E.U. accuses the U.K. to have rejected his offer of a visa waiver for artists “performing an activity on an ad hoc basis.” But on the other hand, the U.K. denounces that this gift was only a Trojan horse as E.U. countries still could have asked for a work permit and still ignored the artists’ support staff. The only way to solve this situation is to follow the trail blazed by the petition’s signatories and follow the instructions the paper offers. 

What is important to note is that this problem affects not only musicians but also musical staff, TV and sports celebrities, alongside many other artists who want to shine and spread culture freely through the 27 EU members. 

The discussion around the matter which took place in the U.K. Parliament on Monday, 8th of February, did not really shed further light on the future of Art with the divorce of the E.U. and the U.K. Today, the balance sheet of COVID/Brexit dismally reverberates the words of Rishi Sunak, the U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer: “musicians and others in [the] arts should retrain and find other jobs.”

Mélusine Lebret