What Brexit will mean for musical Britain (1)

What Brexit will mean for musical Britain (1)


norman lebrecht

April 08, 2016

One of Europe’s best string quartets played at London’s Wigmore Hall this week.

Three of the players are EU citizens, the fourth is from a former Soviet republic.

The unlucky man (we have been asked to protect identities) must apply for a working visa every time the quartet performs in Britain. The visa costs him £450.

That’s about his entire fee.

The celebrated quartet will play the Wigmore Hall again next month. Our friend will pay another £450. (Apparently he requires a Certification of Sponsorship each time from every booking venue.)

The process he has to undergo through the UK Border Agency is complicated and time consuming.

But that’s how we treat non-EU citizens who want to take part in our musical life. They are not part of the club. Our gatekeepers can exploit, harass and humiliate them, and no-one cares. That’s life.

wigmore hall

Now fast-forward to June 2016.

Imagine Britain voted to leave the EU. Before very long, other EU countries would subject our musicians to similar regulations. We’d be the ones who paid £450 for an EU visa. Our government would doubtless reciprocate. Musical life would wither for want of the free flow of talent. We’d be living in the Land without Music.

Brexit, anyone?


UPDATE: Here’s what Brexit will mean for music colleges and universities.




  • Eddie Mars says:

    This is a case where Britain gets the worst of both worlds – membership of the EU, without membership of the Schengen visa system.

    Every year Britain misses out on hundreds of thousands of visitors who have come to Europe – but don’t visit Britain, because it’s still living in the 14th century. Ditto for working musicians – who have visas for the rest of civilised Europe, but need to get extra 450-quid visas for Britain. And give their fingerprints at a British Embassy, like criminals.

    • Anon says:

      Eh? Britain is not currently in Schengen. The case cited in the article makes no difference to Britain’s membership or otherwise of Schengen; and Brexit would make no difference to the status quo w.r.t. Schengen either.

      As for the 14th Century… Scotland became independent, the Welsh were a bit unruly; and arguably there was better visa-less integration between UK and France for any unlikely foreigners around making the journey, what with there not really being visas in the same way, and the English having claimed large parts of Northern France (and consequent Battle of Poitiers, Battle of Crécy, etc.)

      • Eddie Mars says:

        Hello?? The quartet are from Europe. The 4th player works there, so he has a Schengen visa. If Britain *had* joined Schengen, then this 4th player would not need any extra visa to visit UK.

        Clear now?

        • Mathieu says:

          Eddie has a point.

        • Anon says:

          Ah – you mean “this is a case” – i.e. the example of the quartet and viola player. Apologies; I thought you meant “this is a case” as in “Brexit” – the overall ‘point’ of the posting. Which, as I suggest, would in all likelihood make little practical difference. I still don’t think the reference to the 14th Century was helpful, mind.

  • Anon says:

    This suggestion – and I have seen similar ones in other industries – would be unlikely to happen; and the point of comparison is deliberately chosen to make it look as bad as possible.
    I would suggest that in the event of ‘Brexit’ we would be far more likely to see a Visa Waiver scheme in the UK applied to European nationals which would cover this sort of activity. The better points of comparison are not Russia, but the current situation with Norway and with Switzerland. Opening up across Europe in this way would be more likely to stimulate a softer approach to other countries outside Europe in the medium to long term, I would think.

    • herrera says:

      Will there be a visa waiver program between the UK and the EU for all categories of workers, including musicians? I don’t think the answer is obvious, it all depends on what economics are at stake.

      For instance, in finance, the London market is probably more important to EU bankers than Frankfurt and Paris markets are for UK bankers, so the EU will be sure to allow UK bankers free access to the EU in order to get reciprocal treatment for EU bankers to access London.

      But for music, it’s the opposite, the London market is less important to EU musicians than the Berlin and Paris and Vienna and Milan markets are to UK musicians, so that the EU will have less incentive to see reciprocal free movement among EU and UK musicians.

  • CDH says:

    £450 seems a very great deal for a visa — what are they paying these people at embassies and consulates to justify that sort of cost?

    Lower visa fees would still let them exercise some sort of control without driving away tourists and working stiffs.

  • Allen says:

    Very good point. Nobody travelled in or out of the UK before 1973. Foreign musicians were unheard of.


    • herrera says:

      Before 1973, any musician, whether UK or “EU”, who wanted to do a tour of different European cities (including London), had to apply for individual visas, at individual consulates, paid individual fees, waited the individual waiting periods, for each and every country he or she wanted to play at, a situation no one wants to return to.

  • Graeme Hall says:

    How much did Handel pay for his work visa?

  • L.F. says:

    I know an excellent pianist who happens to be from a non-EU country. He plays regularly and to full houses in the whole of continental Europe and in Japan. He says its such a pain to get an UK-visa that he just refuses to play there.

    One should not forget that such a foreign pianist would pay in the UK 20 percent withholding tax on his income before expenses. If for instance he would earn 20000 £ for five concerts he would pay 4000 £ in taxes.

    If the tax authority charges 450£ for a working visa this is outrageous and has the the character of a tax. If this charge impedes foreign soloists to work, earn and pay withholding taxes in the UK this is even contraprocuctive tor the tax man!

    • Eddie Mars says:

      Moreover, in addition to the 450 quid Consular Fee, applicants who don’t live in capital cities or cities with British Consulates will have all the costs of travel to a British Consulate to make their application… of hanging about several days whilst they make their deliberations… and of collecting the final visa. Only then can they actually travel to Britain. Given the vagaries of the process, many will put off the purchase of their ticket to the UK until they know they are safely holding a visa – and this adds to the costs and delays.

      Work visas are only given to in-person applicants, who must go through an interview with a Consular Officer, and also (in many cases, on a nationality-dependent basis) give a fingerprint test. No-one can explain what the purpose of the fingerprint test is, although apparently it’s jolly important, and mysteriously only requested from countries with which Britain has some kind of ongoing diplomatic tussle.

      For example, a singer from the extremely mainstream Novosibirsk Opera would have to take a train (24 hours) or plane to the nearest British Consulate in Ekaterinburg.. stay there at least 2-3 days in a hotel during the application process (longer if you don’t book an appointment)… and then either fly to Britain on a top-price Lufthansa connection from Ekaterinburg, or head independently to Moscow for a budget-priced flight. So you can figure at least a further 400-500 dollars (and 4-5 days) for all that pallaver. God help you if you come from Khabarovsk or Vladivostok 🙁

      • Anon says:

        I don’t disagree, but fail to see what a comparison with Russia has to do with Brexit. Russia is not a near neighbour, an ally, a ‘trusted friend’ in UK-to-other-country relationships. Maybe it should be, maybe it shouldn’t be. But it isn’t.

        Most European countries (by-and-large) are trusted, would be considered to be allies, are neighbours. I would predict a very positive outcome for all concerned in negotiations of mutual visa-waiver and similar programmes.

    • Anon says:

      LF – and ‘Brexit’ would make no difference at all to this pianist you cite, if he is not currently an EU national (though I agree the requirements seem draconian).

  • Alexander says:

    “we have been asked to protect identities”

    Identities have not been protected very effectively, as it is perfectly obvious which string quartet, and which member of that string quartet, this article refers to.

  • Gregor says:

    Perhaps this is not such a bad idea. In the past countries had their own unique sound. Now everything sounds homogenized into a Pan-European sound or worse, American Hollywood. I think we are all the poorer for this.

  • Rob van der Hilst says:

    Well….. if the Albionians should effectively rediscover their from-the-old-days-solid Splendid Isolation, what’s wrong with a continental entryfee as £450 (visa for one time and one person only). It’s f*cking normal in such a situation.
    So, please, no crocodiletears. Or in Dutch: wie zijn billen brandt moet maar op de blaren zitten (= is not harsh to understand or/and translate dear friends 🙂

    • Eddie Mars says:

      Yes, Rob – you’ve articulated the position of your disgusting thug Wilders perfectly. I hope the court put him in prison for 20 years, with no access to peroxide hair dye.

      • Rob van der Hilst says:

        Please, adress your -of course- sincere advise to the judges in question.
        I am almost sure this will make their lives much, much easier.

  • Paul says:

    Oh dear me !
    I work in Tokyo and Bangkok and need a visa for each country if I either stay 2-3 mths. And I pay it so what is the problem ?.
    That’s life get over it and stop your scaremonger propaganda tactics they don’t fool anyone .

    • Julia says:

      Maybe the question is in which relation your work fee (salary) is to the costs of your visa and its duration.

    • ganymede says:

      This is not scaremongering, it’s a simple case of looking at what the consequences of a Brexit could be. Whenever it’s an uncomfortable consequence it’s called scaremongering by the Brexiters. I would call it eye opening, collecting of information.

      Sure, we have had to get visas in the old days. It can be done, yes, but it’s an unnecessary inconvenience. And those unnecessary inconveniences are adding up fast.

  • Sponger Ringer says:

    I don’t think Norman has any expertise or authority in such matters, so why are people taking any notice of this ridiculous article?!

    • Ben B says:

      Why is this so difficult to understand? If we leave the EU, it will be more difficult and expensive for EU musicians to come to the UK, and it will be more difficult and expensive for UK musicians to work in Europe.

      Norman does not need any special expertise or authority to highlight this.

      • Sponger Ringer says:

        You don’t know that that’s fact, though, do you?! You think you know it, but you don’t. I’m all for staying in, there’s no doubt about my vote, but just like Norway, the way the UK will interact with the EU if we do leave hasn’t been decided yet. There are a huge number of things that could happen, but we don’t know what they are yet. So all this BS about people knowing what will happen or not needs to stop.

  • David Pountney says:

    Brexit will certainly make life much more difficult for the great numbers of talented young singers and players we are producing. At the moment WE require guest artists from outside the EU to establish “exceptional status” – that will be the fate of our young musicians and singers seeking further opportunities outside the UK in future.

  • Tom says:

    I know this isn’t the point, and of course the system is not fit for purpose, but for the sake of accuracy…

    The player in question could get a Permitted Paid Engagement (PPE) visa (https://www.gov.uk/permitted-paid-engagement-visa/overview) which costs £87 and you don’t need a Certificate of Sponsorship to obtain one, nor to perform if you have a PPE visa.

    Alternatively, if you are regularly playing in the UK and you have connections with a UK sponsor (e.g. your agent, or Wigmore may do it if you ask nicely), you can get a longer term and multi-entry Tier 5 visa which I believe comes out at around £200 off the top of my head. If you’re Russian, you need to get a doctor’s certificate stating you don’t have tuberculosis if the visa is over six months which is of course pretty inconvenient…but you can get around that by applying for a new visa every six months.

    As I mentioned – not disagreeing with the fundamental point, just the details.

  • Saxon Broken says:

    If Britain left the EU, there would almost certainly be an agreement allowing entry between the EU and Britain (or rather the Common Border Area, which includes Rep. Ireland) without visas.