OPINION: A No-Deal Brexit would be disastrous for UK music

OPINION: A No-Deal Brexit would be disastrous for UK music

Get ready for Brexit! But get ready for what? It appears the government would rather not be honest with you. In fact they are currently wasting millions on advertising on Facebook on how to prepare for No-Deal. A government report on the consequences of a No-Deal exit of the EU, called Operation Yellowhammer leaked in August, detailing the terrible issues it could cause.

Travel disruption, food and medicine shortages, restricted travel, new visa rules, economic uncertainty and a hard border in Northern Ireland which is a threat to peace. No, this is not ‘project fear’ but the actual potential consequences of crashing out of the European Union with a No-deal Brexit at the end of October.

Despite the passing of the Benn bill by Parliament, that provides a block on No-Deal and compels the Prime Minister to ask for an extension, if no deal is found by the end of the month, our shambolic PM Boris Johnson is promising to leave the EU “do or die” on the 31st of October. With unworkable proposals being put to the EU and no-deal in sight, it’s still a very real and present danger.

But how will a hard Brexit affect the music industry and musicians in this country?! Well, it would be disastrous too. The music industry is currently worth an estimated £4.5bn to the UK economy but this could take a hit. With the potential for extra costs for musicians and exporters, VAT and visa restrictions and a potential end to (and restrictions upon) freedom of movement, these could all result in a nightmare scenario for musicians and the industry overall. UK Music have issued guidance for those who are concerned about the potential consequences, here I will set out some of the potential issues as I see them.


In the event of a no-deal Brexit, British musicians will be faced with “chaos” and extra costs according to the Incorporated Society of Musicians. “No-deal on 31st October would see musicians incurring extra costs of up to £1,000 a year to allow them to carry instruments outside of the UK to one of the EU27 the ISM has calculated.” This will be caused by musicians having to purchase “carnets”, which are temporary international customs documents that are needed for the movement of instruments and equipment outside the UK on a temporary basis.

Its ‘Impact of Brexit on musicians’ report predicted that a lack of transitional arrangements in a no-deal scenario would be chaotic for touring musicians who often work in European Union countries.

“As we know from our professional musician members, the majority of musicians do not have the capacity to absorb additional costs in the event of a no-deal Brexit, such as visa fees,”
said Deborah Annetts, chief executive of ISM.

Former MP and UK Music head Michael Dugher said: ” On average carnets can cost around £1,000 to £2,000 and last around 12 months. EU bands coming to the UK may also be subject to this. Whilst some physical goods such as CDs and DVDs are zero-rated for tariff purposes, others, such as musical instruments and recording equipment, are not. Irrespective of tariffs, possible delays at borders present a real risk. It remains uncertain how the Government intends to address these issues in the long-term in light of Brexit and we ask for further clarity.”

Now the latest GOV.UK page to be updated relates to ‘Import, export and customs for businesses’ which includes small UK bands looking to tour the EU. You now have to pay import/export duty and VAT on your merchandise before you even leave the UK and enter the EU.
Raw TV argues: “These costs would be impossible for most freelance musicians, who earn on average around £20,000 per year. They would simply be unable to allocate up to 5% of their earnings to additional costs in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”

The Government website updated its website recently, to state the following:

“Bringing merchandise from or to the UK in baggage or a small motor vehicle in a no-deal Brexit If you bring goods into or take goods out of the UK in your baggage or a small motor vehicle, and you intend to use them for business, you must declare your goods and pay import duty and VAT before you move them across the border.”

AC Speed on Raw TV pointed out “You even have to apply for a VAT number and apply for an EORI number which means, according to the Government’s own website, “you may have increased costs and delays”. This will literally destroy any opportunity for UK artists and bands, mainly independent ones, to tour the EU. How many artists will be able to afford to pay their entire VAT and duty on merch before even selling it? On top of the costs already suffered by bands to tour the EU.”

The new guidance added today, states that those transporting merchandise and gear into the EU should make an inventory of everything they are transporting in order to help with any red tape or forms you need to full in at ports or border crossings. In the event of a no-deal Brexit “it will not be possible” to buy goods from or sell goods to the EU without an EORI number. The registration number can be obtained from the HMRC and should be applied for “as soon as possible”.

Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), says that a “strong” agreement with the EU is required to ensure Brexit does not negatively impact Britain’s musical imports and exports.

“Music can help to showcase what is exciting about the UK as we forge new trading relationships, but only if our government supports us by ensuring a strong Brexit deal that enables artists to tour freely, robustly protects music rights, and prevents physical music products being impeded in transit.”


A no-deal Brexit could lead to an end of freedom of movement into the UK for EU citizens and for UK musicians touring the European continent. Currently, EU citizens can move freely across 27 countries but a new hard-line Home Secretary Priti Patel is already threatening an end to freedom of movement into the UK from the end of the month.

She claimed at the Tory party conference this week that her goal “is to end the free movement of people once and for all. Instead, we will introduce an Australian style points-based immigration system.

One that works in the best interests of Britain. One that attracts and welcomes the brightest and the best.”

This shocking pronouncement was not only a dog whistle to racists and those who scapegoat EU nationals, but it has also cast uncertainty for the freedoms people hold dear. The freedoms for British citizens to work, study and travel both into the EU and for EU citizens into the UK, including those who are resident here. The White paper last year proposed a skills-based approach to immigration.

However the government also says if you arrive in the UK after 31th October 2019, you can stay for 3 months. If you want to stay longer, you’ll need to apply for European temporary leave to remain. The government have said they will announce more about this scheme if and when we leave.

Some may argue, that because immigration was one of the main issues that fuelled the Brexit vote and should change if we Brexit, but Ed Davey, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesperson, said: “It is completely detached from reality and is the next chapter in the never-ending saga of the utter mess they are making of Brexit.

“What would this mean for EU citizens who have made their home in the UK who have travelled abroad when they try to return? Are the government seriously suggesting an NHS nurse who is an EU national may not be allowed to return to the country if they happen to have been on holiday? It is absurd.”

UK Music CEO Michael Dugher wrote to the UK government to warn of the risks Brexit poses to the UK music industry. He says they were “disappointed by the Government’s recent Immigration White Paper which presented crude skills and salary threshold approach to the UK’s future migration needs. The White Paper follows the report of the Migration Advisory Committee which failed to acknowledge the importance of migration to the music industry and the need for a reciprocal approach.”

Both the White Paper and Migration Advisory Committee did however set a precedent by suggesting the UK agriculture industry should benefit from a seasonal workers scheme allowing lower-skilled EU nationals to come to work here. We propose that the music industry has features which similarly do not work with salary or formal skills thresholds and ask that the Government considers a similar approach for music.”

Despite these grave fears, a recent BPI report has confirmed that the EU has passed a regulation that ensures: ‘British nationals can enjoy visa-free visits for up to 90 days within a 180-day period’.

This visa-free period applies to work and touring within the rules on travel. But this regulation will only take place if the UK government offer the same terms to EU nationals in return, and this has not yet been agreed and with no-deal still on the table, it’s uncertain if it ever will be. It’s also contradictory, how can the government both say it will end freedom of movement and implement an Australian style points system, whilst in the next breath making noises that they will abide by this short stay period?!

The EU has already stated that this visa-free travel is subject to extra border checks and delays. The ABO (Association of British Orchestras) have asserted that “ports such as Dover and Calais are not ‘set up’ to handle such paperwork and could result in delays or re-routed trips to cross EU borders.”

The rules of immigration will apply in the same way to people of all nationalities in a single skills-based system to be phased-in once the implementation period comes to an end on 31 December 2020.

Government guidance today has added that new visas may be required “those travelling to the EU for work should have at least six months remaining on their UK passports and should check immigration rules for each individual EU Member State they are visiting or working in to confirm whether they will need additional work permits or visas. It is noted that travelling to Ireland will not be affected after Brexit.”

Dugher states “The UK music sector is worth around £1 billion to the economy and has grown by 49 per cent since 2012. At present, artists can play a concert in Amsterdam one night and then simply travel to Paris the next with no associated costs or red tape as a result of freedom of movement of people. Losing this following Brexit is likely to have a serious impact on touring musicians and crews, and risks our ability to grow audiences and limits millions of fans not being able to see their favourite UK acts. Countries such as France have traditionally required work permits for performances by artists from non-EU countries.”

Tasmin Little is one of Britain’s top violinists and her work takes her all over the world, often at short notice. She told Sky News she predicted that a no-deal exit from the European Union would bring a “bureaucratic nightmare” for musicians.

“A musician’s life is based around travel, therefore, ease of movement is an essential requirement. Any country that values a rich cultural and musical life understands that diversity is only possible if musical communities remain international; and this can only happen if there is absolute freedom to travel, both with regard to planned tours as well as last-minute engagements.

“It is as essential for musicians from the UK to travel abroad with ease, as it is for artists from outside the UK to enter the country to work. The amount of red tape is increasing to an enormous proportion, and this is beginning to have a major negative impact on musicians, both in terms of time spent as well as cost involved. We call upon the government to understand these issues, ease these difficulties and enable us to continue to give our best and do our jobs without hindrance and excessive extra costs.”

The musician Ed East told me about the issues that an end to freedom of movement from the continent into Britain will have upon him: “I’m a British musician. I’ve been living in Berlin for 10 years. It goes without saying that Brexit and the Tories are heralding the most heinous end to a shitty few years in anglo-European relations. I have a band called Beasts and we are made up of myself, an Englishman, and a German, an Italian and an Israeli. We are releasing our debut album this autumn and I have basically given up all ideas of planning a tour in England. The whole thing is such a horrible mess.”

He continues despairingly “I moved here exercising my freedom of movement, born a member of the European Community, and now not only is my birthright to identify as a European being taken away by people who do not know me or care about my situation, the British government has all but disowned any Brits living in Europe. Plus, after Halloween, I will no longer be a legal resident with working rights in the city where I made my life and started a family. I will then have to apply for residency and working visas to remain in the city where my children were born and live. Every day I despair when I read the news coming out of England.”

The artist Ady Suleiman told the BBC that streaming gives him the ability to instantly build an audience around the world- and it’s currently easy for him to tour in Europe in support of that. “As soon as my music’s released in the UK, it’s available everywhere because of streaming.”

“So if anything it can be more important to play in those countries (in Europe) because you could have a bigger audience there than the UK. For example, when we were in Poland, my manager said a remix of one of my tracks was the number one Shazamed song there. I put it in the set… that was the most interaction I got with fans and then the most we took on the merch stand. We just did 14 different dates in 14 different cities. It’s been so easy to get to the shows, we get in the van and drive. But if that became more expensive and you had to get things like visas I’d start making quite a big loss.”

Michael Dugher argues: “The ending of free movement with no waiver for musicians will put our fast-growing live music sector, that generates around £1 billion a year for the UK economy, at serious risk. The truth is costly bureaucracy will make touring simply unviable for very many artists. This puts the development of future globally-leading UK talent at risk. While the UK’s commercial music industry outperforms the rest of the economy on so many indicators, average earnings in the sector are below the average earnings of the rest of the economy. The average wage in the UK last year was £29,002 yet music creators earn significantly less at £20,504 a year. The vast earnings attributed to super-rich global stars are very much the exception, not the norm.

We desperately need a reciprocal system that supports temporary short-term permissions and exemptions for musicians and crews – both for those coming to the UK and those performing in the EU – to keep our touring industry vibrant and thriving. This could be achieved through the creation of a “touring passport” that acts as a waiver for visas and permits.”

He continues “The existing EU Blue Card is a work and residency permit for non EU/EEA nationals and is a useful precedent by which a touring passport could be designed. How the UK designs its future immigration system could have a profound impact on how this issue can be resolved. The UK benefits greatly from cultural exchange.

Individual classical musicians frequently visit the UK at short notice to play in flagship venues like the Royal Albert Hall. Our musicians are also in high demand at orchestras in the EU.
Session players also come from EU member states to world-renowned recording studios such as Abbey Road and AIR.”

The ISM survey includes anonymous observations from musicians reports that the prospect for a no-deal is already affecting bookings, with tours shelved amidst uncertainty: “contractors have already been looking for alternatives rather than book me.” replies one survey respondent “This year I only have one concert in Germany”, says another, who fears of “having to pay for artist visas and the possibility of higher foreign performer taxes”

Touring crews are already receiving notifications that their National insurance contributions may not be covered by the A1 form, if and when we Brexit. Currently, based on EU social security legislation, UK companies sending their employees on a temporary basis to another EEA Member State (or vice versa) can continue to pay social security contributions in the UK and request an A1 certificate, that provides evidence of the ‘applicable (social security) legislation’ during the assignment to the Host country authorities, and exempts the company and its employee from social security contributions in the Host EEA Member State.

After Brexit day, the UK would be technically treated as a non-EU country and consequently, would lose all the benefits provided by the EU protections including the right to get an A1 certificate for their cross-border workers.

Instead, the national social security legislation of each individual EEA Member State will dictate how social security compliance should be guaranteed whether exemptions apply, or if dual social security contributions will be due. Which could lead to extra payments due to each indvidual country that touring crews seek to work in after the 31st deadline. This could lead to extra red tape, and cripple many organisations and individuals working in the EU making touring more expensive and financially less viable for many UK crews and potentially other music professionals.

The government’s new advice states that if you bring your own vechile into Europe you will have to get a Green Card from the insurance company, a GB sticker and, for some EU countries, an International Driving Permit.

Kate Stables of This is the Kit,who tours widely around the UK and Europe, but is a British citizen living in mainland Europe, has concerns about how no-deal will affect her work that she outlined to the New Statesman. “It is my belief/fear that leaving the EU will result in more difficulty touring and crossing borders and that it will be more expensive, thus preventing even more musicians from being able to tour outside the UK. It’s hard to make a living out of touring. This will make it harder. People’s mental and physical health will be negatively affected.”

All of these factors will affect our music scene, the artists performing in this country, how venues operate and book shows and the diversity of our music eco-system. Stables continues “[A no-deal Brexit] would have a restricting and damaging effect on the growth and development of the UK’s arts and music community. And what about people visiting from other countries? Making it harder for foreign bands to tour in the UK will starve the country of important exposure to music and art from other places.” She believes this will make our culture more insular too “This is a time when we should be encouraging cultural and social exchange and tolerance, and empathy and appreciation of diversity and differences. Reinforcing borders and making it harder for people to move freely between countries will only reinforce xenophobia and prejudice, not to speak of starving the UK’s arts community of important European connections and opportunities for learning and cross-pollination.”


The current UK copyright works under EU directives. UK government has indicated that these regimes will remain, even if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal. However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been disapproving of the recently enforced “directive for the digital single market” which holds online services like Youtube liable for copyrighted material uploaded by its users.

UK music says: “At present, the EU provides a high level of protection for copyright works. We welcome the provisions in paragraphs 44 and 45 of the Political Declaration which provides for the protection and enforcement of intellectual property to stimulate creativity and seek to preserve high levels of protection under copyright law.”

“Copyright is of fundamental importance to the music industry. It enables creators to derive a financial return for their work and provides an incentive for businesses to invest in creative content. “The European Union’s competence over copyright means UK domestic legislation is based on Directives emanating from the EU.

“Withdrawal from the EU does not require substantial changes to the UK copyright framework. This continuity is critical to ensuring confidence amongst music businesses. There is no evidence of the need for new exceptions to copyright. We ask you to confirm that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 provides sufficient guarantees for protecting copyright law and that the UK Government will resist any attempts to weaken this through amendment.”


A rarely mentioned consequence of Brexit is the effect it will have on the record business, including labels and record shops. Should a ‘no-deal’ happen, World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs may apply. This will make shipping goods to and from the UK more costly. Alternative methods will have to be looked into but delays may occur too, which will further squeeze margins.

Record label owner Andrew Bennet told us about how extra import and export tariffs could affect his label Jezus Factor which handles releases by Belgian artists. “When you run a UK record label that releases 90% Belgian music Brexit extends far beyond the embarrassment of the actions of my fellow countrymen. I’ve had sympathy and even laughter from my Belgian friends. However on a wider level when your business depends on the import and export of LP’s, CD’s and cassettes back and forth across the 20 miles of channel any restrictions or fees will be the final nail in the coffin of an already precarious existence. It’s about more than money (especially when any profits just get ploughed into the next release anyway) it’s about physical music, it’s about friendship, community and communication with our European brothers and sisters. I don’t want to even think about the live side of things; getting gigs in the UK is already a horribly bleak experience. I’ve worked hard for over a decade just trying to keep on going and if this finally destroys Jezus Factory I fully intend to dump a skip load of Belgian art-rock outside 10 Downing Street.”

Rupert Morrison of the Drift record shop in Devon told us “We try and keep the frustration about it all in, but the closer we get to the precipice, we feel like it’s our responsibility to keep talking about the imminent danger and the potential severity.”

Even more terrifyingly according to an unnamed source “If Brexit does indeed happen, there is every chance that the majority of UK record shops could be whipped out by January.”

“The logic is as follows;

1. A lot of vinyl (being that which the majority of us trade in these days) is made in the EU. Outside of this, lots is made in the USA. However you dress it up, a big percentage will need to come into the country. There is every chance that a huge part of our catalogue will not be coming into the UK for November and beyond… if you have issues with chemicals and medicine, vinyl is hardly going to jump the queue.

2. Quite a big part of the distribution network is also based in the EU. Again, getting stock into the country is going to be murder.

3. The markup and profit space on CD and Vinyl is already so low… with a fast dropping pound, rolling news about recession and bleak future, shopping will dip, which is already common in November. Add to this reduced overall turnover the fact that each unit will inevitably increase in price due to cost and tariff… the whole business model could pretty much instantly become non-viable. If you add 10/20p to each unit at cost, the mark up dips below what would work…. the only people who will manage will be;

4. Amazon. They are multinational, they will find a way to purchase in the best way and they will be drop shipping via their own networks into the UK. They can also afford to make no/low money on the sales and will relish the chance to destroy the opposition. Major labels and big indies will be forced to put weight behind the online big boys as that is the only outlet still taking big stock orders (or the ability to take any) and that further drives the messaging that Amazon works, everything else doesn’t.

5. December – people *have* to shop for Christmas, but suggestions already are that Black Friday will be used as a last chance saloon to buy up gifts and the Christmas period for the high street could well be the lowest-performing in decades. December often is used to compensate for November and January, without that sales hike, who knows whether shops will even open their doors.”

Paloma Faith, Annie Lennox, Chrissie Hynde, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, Jamie Cullum, Nadine Shah, Blur’s Dave Rowntree, Nitin Sawhney and Billy Bragg were among the artists signing a letter calling on the British government to find an ‘alternative to Brexit’ last year.

The letter was drafted by the pro-Europe group Music4EU, which is inviting other artists, companies and industry bodies to back its call.

“Brexit represents a significant threat to the UK’s Music Industry. Leaving the EU’s customs union, single market, VAT area and regulatory framework (in whole or part) could devastate our global market leadership, and damage our freedom to trade, tour and to promote our artists and our works,”
it says.

“Our world-beating artists helped to create exports of over £2.5 billion, which is growing fast in the global digital music business. Live music is at the heart of every artist’s business and contributed around £1bn to the UK economy, and freedom of movement is core to an artist’s ability to tour and promote their art.”

Whilst the likes of Roger Daltrey and Morrissey are actively in favour of Brexit. Some artists have been alluding to the tragedy of Brexit in song, Gwenno released the track ‘Herdhya‘ (Pushing, in Cornish) last year, she says its “about the feeling of isolation after the Brexit vote, being stuck on an island”, she explained, with “people who are trying to push society back to a regressive idea of the middle ages that has never existed, and imposing that on everyone else”.

As Billy Bragg puts it there’s been a deeper schism in our unequal society with parts of Britain having been devastated by industrialisation, years of austerity and a political disconnection, and Brexit and Trump are a symptom of the “manifestation of the failure to build a society that works for everyone. Both offer answers, but only to their own supporters. I believe that if we are to overcome the mistrust and disdain that has divided us, to take the first steps towards building that inclusive society that reflects both the traditions and diversity of our country, we need to have some understanding about where our opponents are coming from. My new song “Full English Brexit” was written in that spirit.”


Some people are stockpiling food, medicine and merchandise or waiting to see whether a last-minute withdrawal deal can be done before making investments, deals or travel arrangements, but the best advice is to keep up to date with the latest news and guidance on the government website and UK music website, look at ways of offsetting any potential costs by making your own arrangements on how to reach European audiences through touring or exporting, but the truth is nobody knows for sure how a No Deal will affect music, but the potential is like much of the wider economy it won’t be good, a fall in the pound and the current uncertainty for businesses and individuals who wish to travel abroad from 2020, tells you that.


Brexit is a political project, an attempt to further deregulate the UK. Strip away EU rights and open up our public services to disaster capitalists and the US government for trade deals.

Some of you reading this may cry “but 17.4m people voted to leave in 2016, that’s a democracy” yes and people voted for various reasons and they were lied to, where is the money for the NHS? Where is the easiest trade deals we would ever do? Three and a half years of chaos in and the people who pushed for Brexit are in charge and showing you how even thinking about leaving will cause economic and social hardships for years to come. And what’s worse even if we leave with no-deal at the end of this month, it won’t be ‘over’ it will be just the start of torturous negotiations with the EU over our future relationship that could last for decades.

Furthermore, a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit was never argued for during the referendum campaign when it was asserted that negotiations would be swift and we would be able to take advantage of “trade deals around the world”. I am not obsessed with Brexit, the EU isn’t perfect like any large organisation and I would much rather focus on the real issues in this country; inequality, crumbling public services, a benefits and mental health system that doesn’t support and help those that are weak in society to thrive. I care about cuts to education and the arts as these are the things that improve life and people’s horizons but Brexit has been used as a wedge issue by the far right to stoke division and hatred and a way of blaming the other.

For music the situation is potentially dire, restrictions on movement and increased costs, plus the impact on an already struggling recorded music sector currently coping with a shift over to a new digital and streaming reality, could be a devastating final blow to many small labels and record shops. It could also restrict the ability of musicians to tour and continental musicians to enter the country to perform for us at venues or one of the many thriving festivals in this country. It will close off partnerships and shut down much of the diversity and partnership that feeds into an open tolerant multicultural society that enriches our (cultural) lives. Brexit is intolerance. Brexit is insular and nationalistic. Brexit is a distraction. It is division. It’s Britain downgrading itself. Brexit is bad news and will be for a long time.

Whilst I would have begrudgingly accepted a compromise deal after 2016, I for one think we should now vote again, democracy isn’t just an open and shut case, it evolves it changes, we have elections every five years for a reason. But this time the question should be more clearly defined, the choices should be between what the actual reality of what a Brexit deal means as spelt out in the last three years versus the benefits, rights and funding we currently have being part of a political union.

Update: A petition has been launched asking parliament that any Brexit deal protects musicians and touring crews. https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/277346

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.