Leading UK pianist has a blast at Brexit

Leading UK pianist has a blast at Brexit


norman lebrecht

September 14, 2021

Message from Paul Lewis as president of the Chipping Campden Music Festival:

‘We are living through one of the most extraordinary periods in the history of the UK and one that has had a devastating effect on the arts.

‘Whilst the full impact of Covid couldn’t have been predicted or averted, the self-inflicted disaster that is Brexit could have, and all the warnings that were dismissed as scare mongering, have turned out to be correct.

The arts in this country will survive with the continued generous support of those who understand their importance, but in the UK’s deliberate severing of the arts community’s easy links with the EU, we have lost something precious beyond words.’

Not sure what’s achieved by weeping into long-spilt milk.

It’s over.

Move on.


  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    > ”Not sure what’s achieved by weeping into long-spilt milk.
    It’s over.
    Move on.”

    At the risk of being banned, I must say that I consider this our esteemed host’s least well reasoned proposition, ever.

    What is wrong remains wrong. What is misguided remains misguided. What is disastrous remains disastrous. Regardless of whether we are yet in a position to adduce remedy or not.

    Imagine shrugging off in the same way
    — the Taliban disbanding of civilisation;
    — the current Polish government’s Orwellian drive to expurgate the national past;
    — the Orbán régime’s drive to hard-wire authoritarian ‘Gleichschaltung’ into a fleeting democracy’s national fabric;
    — whatever new Woke ‘foolishness du jour’ presumes to make tabula rasa of the past and instigate the politically correct Newspeak phraseology.
    To name but a few current examples.

    For the res publica to function, even in the quaint ways of the Murdoch-supervised Westminster system, there is the need to call out what needs calling out. Public blunders must, of the essence, be democratically reversible, and shown to be so — as long as you shoot yourself in the foot, that is, and not in the head.

    Cato the Elder had a valuable lesson for us: it’s not over till it’s truly over. You don’t shrug and move on, you move the Earth.
    “Ceterum autem censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.” In the end it was.

  • Gustavo says:

    OK, so forget history and move on!

    Why cry over climate change, Corona and the Holocaust? We’ve survived.

    But is it always that easy?

    Populism has destroyed (long before the pandemic) the dignity and credibility of a once honourable united kingdom.

    A way back into the EU is conceivable and remains a hope for generations to come.

    • Minutewaltz says:

      How long do you think it will be before the UK rejoins?

      • Gustavo says:

        12-20 years.

      • V. Lind says:

        It may happen, though it might be worth hanging around for a while to see how the dust settles on some of the European “partners.”

        But it will not happen during the working lives of some of these musicians — any that is established already. (Some of the mere beginners might just live to see it).

        1. It is high time people realised that Brexit IS, and it is not a temporary inconvenience.

        2. But people from every sector that is unsatisfied with the deal they got should focus on THAT and lobby to get some amelioration, preferably in renegotiated terms, rather than in financial compensation by the UK government. It is the government’s fault these terms are so deleterious, and it serves them right if they have to go cap in hand to the Europeans.

        3. Whingeing and dreaming that it is all going to go away and we will be back to “normal” is futile, and foolish. As was pointed out, musicians existed before Britain ever joined the EEC or the EU. Maybe better to look back to those days for inspiration than to the recent “halcyon” days pre-referendum.

        The UK has picked up enough bad habits from the US without adopting its most fatal flaw, and the one from which so many other faults emanate: infantilism.

        • Gustavo says:

          “musicians existed before Britain ever joined the EEC or the EU”

          True – but their existence is threatened ever since leaving the EU.

          • V. Lind says:

            Agreed — and that is on the utterly incompetent government, which was committed to this course of action and hang the consequences.

            The EU would have granted another extension if asked, and then when Covid came upon us all there was a very good reason to slow down and take time to work out a reasonable exit. But Boris and his acolytes were hell-bent on getting Brexit done and braying about their “oven-ready” deal. We soon learned it was raw cookie-dough.

            I would have been a Remainer, and I think NL’s comment is a little bald, but Brexit IS a fact and it is necessary to find solutions to the utter mess the politicians have made of it. Nothing is gained by pretending it will go away. You think, after all the chaos of the past five years the EU would just say, Come back, all is forgiven?

            But it may take new leadership to get a deal renegotiated. I don’t see Labour getting in any time soon, so maybe we can hope for a change at the top of the Tory party. I don’t think Boris is enjoying this quite as much as he hoped to, so perhaps, after appeasing his environmentalist wife with the Glasgow conference, he will use the excuse of new issue to step down.

            Otherwise, he should be pushed. Not that the bench strength is great in the Tory party, but it can’t — surely — get much worse.

      • Alviano says:

        If the EU is smart (unlikely, I agree) it won’t let the Brits back in!

        De Gaulle was right!

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Seems to me the Brits saved the bony hides of a large cohort of Europeans a few decades ago.

          Yeah, so thanks for the compliments.

      • RobertRoy says:

        Of course, Scotland didn’t want to leave in the first place…

    • Alexander Hall says:

      Some people clearly have not the slightest intention of understanding that nothing, absolutely nothing, is set in stone. They allow themselves to be flattened by any rolling stone that comes their way.

  • Michael Turner says:

    It’s not over, and the arts certainly cannot move on until our government of all the talents decides to sort out the nightmare of red tape that arrived in our sector after Brexit. Well done Paul Lewis and all those who care about one of our most valuable exports: Arts UK.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      Thank goodness some are refusing to join in all the defeatist claptrap. The pro-Brexit propagandists would like us all to shut up. We won’t.

    • Dave says:

      A government of any talent at all – apart from one for self-enrichment – would be a start.

      Maybe the populace will begin to realise that the emptying of shelves and other social disasters are results of the Blukip party’s Brexit. While Johnson’s hoodlums will do all they can, via their obfuscatory policy-making, to keep the blame on Covid, that cannot last until the next General Election, can it?

  • John Wilkes says:

    Over for a while, yes, but eventually the stupidities, lies and losses of ‘Brexit’ will sink into the public mind and may the lead into necessary changes in national policy. Neither should those who lied us into this mess be allowed to get away with it.

    • Nick says:

      British arts existed quite happily even before the EU was “born”!! Wonder how? So, the UK arts will live ever happier without the EU as well, just as before and certainly much better as Time passes!

      • Tamino says:

        And German arts existed before Germany even existed as a nation state. Your argument is moot. Just because something existed before, under different circumstances, in a different political context, it doesn’t mean it can just exist equally well in today’s realities.
        Just think about the British Empire. q.e.d.
        40 years ago there were British lorry drivers. Today they are Eastern European. And Brexit means Britain doesn’t have enough and the super market shelves are partially empty now. talk about shooting into your own foot. Idiotic old Brits.

    • Brettermeier says:

      “Over for a while, yes, but eventually the stupidities, lies and losses of ‘Brexit’ will sink into the public mind and may the lead into necessary changes in national policy.”

      Nice sentiment. More likely: They’ll blame the EU for everything that went/will go wrong because it’s so much better press.

      But I admire your optimism.

  • Maria says:

    Moan, moan, moan… the people of the UK, including many professional musicians dare I say, as one single country voted to leave the EU. We have left! End of story. The pandemic has been the biggest factor all over the world, not in Paul Lewis’s mentality, in crippling the arts. But as the Proms showed this year, and how Covent Garden used to be, nothing wrong with using the most talented of UK artists that often get overlooked for someone just flown in from some far flung place. Until we can get the pandemic turbed into an endemic, and the world is vaccinated, no one is safe, and the cases of Covid and deaths is rising again. This endless Brexit whinge is just SO boring. Move on and accept the will of the majority of the UK people, like it or not, in a democratic country.

    • Mel Cadman says:

      You make the usual arrogant assumption that a majority of less than 4% makes it unassailable. I live in Scotland – I know, an irritating irrelevance to your kind of English perspective governed by SNP and now Greens – where about 2/3 voted against Brexit and saw through the grotesque lies and clear racist underlying ideology which was pedalled throughout the campaign. We didn’t want it, we still don’t and, hopefully, we’ll soon be in a position to rectify this utter stupidity. All the evidence would suggest that the break- up of what is a ridiculous colonial-era fantasy of Great (eh?!) Britain and the United (yeah, right…) Kingdom is in process; Northern Ireland integrating into Ireland, Scotland, eventually becoming independent, and so on. We were a part of Europe, always have been but now face the prospect of increasing self-imposed isolation and even faster economic decline and political irrelevance. Why, on earth, shouldn’t we celebrate that?! Rule Brittania!

    • James says:

      “nothing wrong with using the most talented of UK artists that often get overlooked for someone just flown in from some far flung place” – but what is also overlooked is that the UK generally pays far less than most European countries. It gets away with that because of the historical, and current, excellence of its orchestras and people want to play with them. But cutting off easy access to the European market risks depriving many British artists of a massive slice of their income. Which may in time turn many others away from a career in the arts.

    • JB says:

      You are simply wrong to think we should ‘move on ‘. Whilst overblown rhetoric about sovereignty was given as a major justification, racism and dislike of ‘foreigners was the stimulus for many. Sadly the latter remain and do need to be opposed.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I agree with most of this, except for one question: “what is the point of Boris Johnson?”

  • Mel Cadman says:

    It might serve the purpose of reminding all these Tory supporting sponsors and audience the follies of their voting habits … although hard to imagine concern for others trumping (no pun intended) naked self interest …

    • Robin Smith says:

      So you would have preferred Corbyn?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      What’s absolutely hilarious is the nature of the ‘new Tory’. Seems like the old working class is the ‘new Tory’.

      A thousand laughs. You do your countrymen and women no favours by insulting and demeaning them because of their electoral choices. An embittered female American presidential candidate found that out – to her peril. And the result was her very own Frankenstein monster; Donald Trump.

  • Alexander Hall says:

    “It’s over. Move on.” Is that what you would have told the French Résistance to do in WW2 after the Germans invaded? What little backbone some people have when faced, as Paul Lewis rightly says, with self-inflicted harm of this kind. Shame, shame, shame.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      That is an appalling comparison, as I suspect you may concede on reflection. Nobody has been occupied or mass-murdered.

      • Alexander Hall says:

        That’s the trouble when extreme statements of defeatism provoke equally passionate reactions. Brexit was foisted on a nation that never gave approval to the zero deal we ended up with. Playing into the hands of the proto-fascist propagandists who roll out one lie after another (there’s another parallel which you won’t like – remember who made a great case for the big lie and telling it over and over again?) by doing part of their dirty work for them is not something I can ever countenance.

      • Gustavo says:

        Not to mention the many victims of the pandemic as a result of indifferent politics following Brexit.

      • Miko says:

        Naziism didn’t begin with occupation or mass murder.
        It ended there.

  • UK Arts Administrator says:

    The point remains that the UK, in negotiating its leaving the EU, turned down a pan-EU deal, offered by the EU and refused by the UK negotiators, that would have enabled British musicians to continue touring without work permits and/or visas across the EU, so continuing to bring back into the UK economy much of the £5.5 billion (yes, billion) that the UK music industry used to generate for the UK economy, and which formed the backbone of the livelihoods of tens of thousands of UK professional musicians, 85% of them freelancers who relied to a significant degree on income from that touring in the EU.

    It has already been well documented on SD, amongst many places, the significant difficulties now faced by UK orchestras, choirs, ensembles and soloists wishing to continue to tour in the EU. As an example: just try taking an orchestra or choir to Spain. The costs and red-tape now make it all but prohibitive, so the engagement falls (and often with it the whole tour, as tours need to stack up the dates across several EU countries to make them pay). Whilst accepting that the UK voted to leave the EU – for better or for worse – surely even the most ardent “leave” voter didn’t expect the UK to turn down an offer that would have enabled UK musicians to retain earning their livings by touring in the EU. The surplus made from EU touring subsidised, often made possible, work in the UK, so that dominoes negatively into UK performances.

    Sure, Maria above, we still have the Proms (paid for by the BBC, through the licence fee), but an occasional Prom for a few dozen freelance musicians doesn’t replace the 30-50% of income that used to come to those tens of thousands of freelance, hugely talented UK performers who make up the backbone of UK music – choirs, orchestras, soloists, jazzers, pop bands both on the way up and the way down – from that now-lost EU touring. Then add in the ripples of lost income for rehearsal venues, truckers, technicians, cafes next to rehearsal venues, travel agents, airlines and Eurostar: all that lost touring feeds on through the economy. For the recording industry too, fewer foreign performances means reduced recording sales, loss of PR and profile, less airtime: all that too has a negative effect on the UK economy.

    And that is part of why Paul Lewis, rightly, reminds those people who still “don’t get it” that, for UK music, leaving the EU on these terms has been desperately advantagous. And that work needs to carry on to repair or somehow to patch up at least some of the damage of the present highly unsatisfactory situation.

    • UK Arts Administrator says:

      Correction: the second last sentence should of course end “disadvantageous”, not “advantageous”.

  • christopher storey says:

    To those, including Lewis, who are so keen to set aside the democratic vote of a majority of the British public, I suggest you go and live somewhere like Communist China or Russia, and see how you get on

    • Gustavo says:

      I obviously have a different understanding of the statistical significance of what you define as “majority” of the British public.

    • UK Arts Administrator says:

      But Paul Lewis does not say that the UK should set aside a democratic vote. What he does say – and above in longer form I outlined one consequence – is that the deal refused by the UK negotiators that would have enabled UK performers to continue to work in the EU has brought huge disadvantage to UK musicians, and involves considerable financial loss for the UK economy.

      However people voted in that referendum, surely they made their choice because they thought that doing so would bring advantage to the UK. Mr Lewis points out that for UK Arts it has brought strong disadvantage. And that is what he laments.

    • Tamino says:

      It was a very narrow victory by the old population, mobilised by proto-fascist propaganda. The old people’s irrationality or nostalgia voted Britain out of Europe.
      I consider that undemocratic, because their vote affects realities for many decades for the coming generations, when they are already dead.
      Unlike a normal election, that limits the responsibility for your personal vote to four years.

      • kk says:

        Leaving the EU was a decision of momentous, long-term importance. In most countries, European and other, constitutional votes require a 60% majority. It seems incredible that the British government was content to set the required majority at 50%.

      • Gustavo says:

        That same nostalgia is blocking any serious action taken to mitigate climate change.

        The next German government at least should consider enabling the population <18 years to have their say.

        If it is all about a nation's future, old-aged pensioners should be expelled from general elections.

    • miko says:

      Hitler won democratic votes.
      Have a think about that and get back to me.

  • Brettermeier says:

    “It’s over. // Move on.”

    But isn’t it funny that you say what I just quoted while the UK wants to break and/or renegotiate the deal they signed just a few months ago because BoJo so desperately needed a win?

    I think it’s funny. But I’m easily amused these days.

  • Bill says:

    “drop,drop, slow tears”

  • Wesley says:

    The Brexit Hate is strong with this thread…A few observations:

    (1) People who compare Brexit to the Holocaust or the Taliban need to have a lie down and then take a hard look at themselves and their world view.

    (2) People who like to talk about “xenophobic, racist Little England” might like to reflect that (i) the number of BAME MEPs in the EU is much reduced since the UK left (by 20%; in the 2019 elections only 13 member states, including the UK, elected BAME MEPs); (ii) the UK is one of the very few European countries in which the official far-right party is not either in a coalition government or present in national parliaments with elected representatives (and if you think Boris Johnson’s government is “far-right”, then see (1) above); (iii) the UK government has the most, by far, BAME members of any European state; and (iv) as the daily news shows, there is a steady flow of BAME refugees fleeing the EU for a better life in the UK – so we can’t be that bad.

    (3) Brexit’s not all about musicians. Whilst it’s deeply frustrating that a better accommodation for musicians hasn’t been agreed, the reasons why 17.4 million people voted “Leave” (a number greater than the entire population of the Netherlands) were many and varied. A lot of people had seen their own jobs undercut by cheap EU labour (see taxi drivers, childcare providers, cleaners); others didn’t see why their taxes should help fund the lifestyle of people who care more about their annual skiing holiday than the well-being of people living in the margins of the UK; others still didn’t want the UK to be part of a United States of Europe. Their views matter just as much as Paul Lewis’; and they don’t deserve to be insulted for disagreeing with him.

    (4) Brexit, and the forces and concerns that drove the Referendum result, are far more complicated than many of the glib responses above suggest. The British are not alone in Europe in having such concerns. Shout and insult us as much as you like; but I sense what’s driving much of the anger above is the knowledge that the forces behind Brexit are much closer to home than you’d like to admit, and you don’t know how to deal with them.

    • Brettermeier says:

      “refugees fleeing the EU for a better life in the UK”

      Romania, Bulgaria, A*stria…

      And all of a sudden, GB sounds like a good idea! 😉

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Self interest will always prevail.

  • Monty Earleman says:

    I know I went into music because the pay is so good…..

  • horbus rohebian says:

    Well Paul has put his money where his mouth is and moved to Norway. A fine pianist and a principled human being