Comment of the Day: UK musicians are charged out of Europe

Comment of the Day: UK musicians are charged out of Europe

Comment Of The Day

norman lebrecht

April 22, 2021

A Slippedisc comment from a UK arts administrator:

If orchestras can’t actually afford to play any more in countries where they used to get good, profitable work (work that kept them and their musicians afloat) because of substantial costs involved in new visa regulations – additionally noting that this work used heftily to subsidise work in the UK – then it is hard to see how anyone can “make it a success”.

The average orchestral player or pro chorus singer – freelancers, almost all of them – gets paid a fee of around £160 per day. But now, as example, if to give a concert in Spain on a tour costs an additional €232 (plus the unpaid half day spent going to the embassy to get the necessary visa) with the promoter in Spain unable to find substantial extra funding for (say) 60 visas, the concert becomes uneconomic. So the date is lost to the UK orchestra.

Multiply that situation across hundreds of dates that used to be there in Spain, all now falling around our ears (with dates in 2023 already evaporating as there are long lead times in touring), then add extra visa costs for performing in Belgium, Switzerland (it may be non-EU but UK musicians now fall foul of rules there), Italy, half the Balkan countries, etc etc, that’s one heck of a hole in the UK’s Arts balance sheet, and one heck of a hole in the already precarious income of hard-pressed freelance musicians.

If you can tell us how people working in UK Arts can resolve that, please, please tell us. No-one else has yet managed to work that one out, so, please give us your sunny solution so we can “make it a success”.




  • La belle plus voix says:

    Realistically, post Brexit, there remains but one avenue: lobbying Parliament to negotiate agreements with the EU, ones which would allow EU artists to work with a special waiver artist visum in the UK and vice versa. But, again realistically, this will take years, best case. We just have to accept that orchestral touring at least is pretty well over and done with for now. Without income from EU countries some UK orchestras will not survive, so much is clear. But that business model was risky, to say the least. Add to that the unrealistic, i.e. derisory, ticket price policy for UK concerts and the future looks bleak. Apologies for such a dystopian vision, but until audiences in the UK actually value music-making, and don’t expect to pay flumpence for a ticket, life won’t change.

    • Hubert says:

      Not to mention paying performers decent fees to perform there. The UK is the running joke among professionals. The dominant, UK-based agencies expect you to make your name there (something to do with prestige) but you get about 25% of the average soloist fees paid in the rest of the world. It baffles me that any young musician of the last few decades ever lived a day in the UK after college. Life is so much better on the mainland. Way better value-for-money housing, more jobs, greater appreciation for the arts, better fees etc. I feel very sorry for artists now trapped behind the UK’s retrograde wall.

      • La plus belle voix says:

        Spot on. Some instrumental soloists who are EU citizens make a loss just in order to play at the Promenade Concerts, i.e., in order to be able to say that they played in the series. Time to stay home.

        • Saxon says:

          They likely play once and then don’t bother. But in a long career, why not “play once at the Proms”. It is a rather unusual and unique experience that any curious performer would want to experience at least once.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    If orchestral incomes go down then applications for higher grants from ACE will rise surely.

  • Gustavo says:

    But wasn’t that made clear before the referendum?

    • Brettermeier says:

      “But wasn’t that made clear before the referendum?”

      It depends. If you covered your ears and shouted “lalalalalalala” there’s a chance you might have missed that piece of information.

    • La belle plus voix says:

      Yes, just not to the Grimsby fishermen.

    • Eduardo says:

      I remember Boris being very clear and truthful about this subject.

    • Saxon says:

      Anyone who understood what was at stake understood the implication was that the end of “free movement of people” meant the end of “free movement of people”.

      But lots of people thought it meant the Europeans would not be allowed into Britain but the British would still be allowed into Europe. They seem rather shocked that this is not so.

      Many musicians seem to believe there should be a special rule for themselves about “free movement of people”: they seem to think ‘of course we should not allow other people into Britain, but being a musician, I should be allowed into Europe’.

      • Tuonela says:

        I disagree. I think most musicians value international artists and orchestras coming to the UK just as much as us working abroad. Which is why the majority of musicians voted to remain.

  • Rogerio says:

    The European Union was built to facilitate contact between the peoples of its member countries.
    Brexit was invented to do the opposite.
    Both are a success.
    And mind the gap.

  • Bill says:

    Rejoin the EU. Problem solved.

  • Kenneth Griffin says:

    Why not send Boris Johnson a text, asking him to fix it for you?

  • Harpist says:

    Brexit has consequences. Who could have anticipated that…?

    (A lot of people, practically the rest of Europe and ~50% of the UK)

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Brexit: the gift that keeps on giving.

  • Ulrich Brass says:

    Let’s get pragmatic: without a global deal allowing free movement of any workers workers across UK-EU a specific one for musicians won’t happen.

    Think in terms of import/export of goods: UK and the EU can agree on a global deal that avoids tariffs because, overall, the import-exports ratio is balanced for both parts. However the EU would never accept on having a specific deal only for cars because the UK exports way more cars to the EU than it imports and that would be a very bad business for the EU. In the same way, it’s hard that the EU would accept a specific deal for musicians, as the UK exports way more musicians to the EU that it imports from the EU.

    That is the reality of Brexit. Once you are not part of the union, everything is business.

    • Robert King says:

      Ironically, it was the EU that offered a deal for musicians to have such a waiver, and it was the UK that refused it. Here is – verbatim – a message from Michel Barnier’s office sent to a colleague of mine on 24 March 2021 year which clarifies the EU position:

      “The European Union submitted on 18 March 2020 a proposal to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (United Kingdom) for a draft Agreement.

      “This proposed agreement is accessible here:
      I draw your attention to pages 171 and seq. (Articles MOBI.1 and seq.) and page 354 (Annex MOBI-1) of that proposed agreement. Under those articles, the European Union proposed commitments on visa-free short stays and a specific declaration (cf. Annex) excluding performing artists from the requirement to have a visa.

      “The United Kingdom refused to include a commitment on visa-free short stays in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Such types of commitments in the European Union’s international agreements are usually accompanied by a Joint Declaration explicitly excluding certain categories (for example, sportspersons, artists and journalists) from the requirement to have a visa. As a result, it is now up to each Member State to determine if a visa is required for short-stay visits for the purpose of carrying out a paid activity. This is fully in line with European Union law (cf. Art. 6(3) of Regulation 2018/1806). A “paid activity” normally means carrying out a gainful occupation or remunerated activity as an employee or as a service provider.

      “Since the United Kingdom has chosen to no longer allow the free movement of European Union citizens to the United Kingdom and since it also refused to include a chapter on mobility in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, these choices inevitably mean that travel between the European Union and the United Kingdom – including for business purposes – will no longer be as easy as it was while the United Kingdom was a Member State”.

      And there, according to the EU, is the offer that the EU made, and the position that the UK took.

      • Saxon says:

        I fear you are letting the facts get in the way of people’s prejudices when so many people want to blame those nasty Europeans for this situation.