Brexit: summertime blues for UK musicians

The first summer in which the effect of leaving the EU has not been clouded by Covid-19 shows a 45% fall in British players at EU festivals

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The Benicàssim festival

Figures published in July by the campaign group Best for Britain show that on average the number of British musicians playing European stages this summer has fallen by 45% compared to the pre-Brexit years 2017-19.

The decrease was calculated by comparing the average number of British bands playing three major European festivals – Benicàssim in Spain, Sziget in Hungary and Lollapalloza in Germany – annually between 2017-2019 with the number booked to play the same events in 2022.

The fall has been attributed to the bureaucracy occasioned by the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, which took effect in January 2021. Given the shutdown in activity due to Covid-19, 2022 has been the first year in which it has been possible to measure the stifling effect of Brexit on music touring.

Deborah Annetts of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ICM) and UK Trade and Business Commissioner, described a typical post-Brexit scenario: “If you’re a festival organiser in Barcelona who needs to fill a last minute slot, British bands will be at the bottom of your list due to new barriers created by this botched Brexit deal.” She added: “Whoever ends up replacing Boris Johnson must commit to removing this needless bureaucracy which is stifling the prosperity and creativity of the next generation of British musicians.”

Best for Britain (BFB) says music executives report that the end of freedom of movement has effectively disqualified British artists from last-minute opportunities. The new restriction is expected to disproportionately impact emerging artists as established musicians are more likely to be booked months in advance.

BFB’s research was published before a 21 July meeting of the UK Trade and Business Commission convened to take evidence on the effect of Brexit on the British music and travel industries. Among the musical witnesses at the meeting were Dave Webster of the Musicians Union, Naomi McCarthy of the ICM and Stephen Maddock of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Their observations can be seen on YouTube, at the end of the first hour.