Voices: Brexit is undermining the arts – and those in the creative industries are not being listened to

The government seems to take delight in reminding us that Brexit is done. I’d say it’s not so much “done” as a seeping, pallid, undercooked, slippery slop that belongs in the waste bin, not worthy of recycling.

However, we must try to achieve a much more worker-friendly Brexit and continue talks with this government and its departments which seem strangely reluctant to help a lucrative industry worth £116bn. Trade is deliberately confused with immigration because populist party politics demand headlines on border control, which has nothing to do with trade. Even EU artists working in the UK get a much better deal than Brits in Europe. Talk about an own goal.

We are now a year on from the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) being signed into law and the situation for musicians and creatives is bleak. There has been little to no progress on the issues facing us with touring, education and more. It’s a point of continual frustration that our brilliant, experienced and passionate sector knows what the solutions are, but too often, they are barred from the conversation or simply not listened to.

Small teams representing the creative industries, mostly spearheaded by Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, are constantly negotiating with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and making representations to select committees from both Houses.

In a September 2021 session, evidence from Deborah Annetts, Noel McClean of BECTU and Craig Stanley Chair of the LIVE Touring Group makes stark reading for those who love our industries.

How did we find ourselves in this situation? To me, it’s clear that the people who represented the UK’s creative industries during the TCA negotiations were rushed and profoundly ill-informed, despite endless offers of help from sector organisations. Bob Geldof, Elton John, Damon Albarn, Brian May and others including myself have been derided as scaremongers for speaking out about the problems.

It would be churlish not to mention progress where it has been made. Spain recently announced 90 out of 180 days access for UK musicians. Nadine Dorries was eager to claim this as a DCMS-led success without acknowledging the Association of British Orchestras, LIVE and their equivalent counterparts in Spain who I understand did most of the negotiating.

Crucially, our soft power is a major factor in maintaining the immense reputation British artists have abroad, which is roughly 20 per cent of global artistic excellence. British creatives are considered universally reliable and highly skilled. They are in huge demand. However, that demand is dwindling fast due to red tape created by those who didn’t take our advice during the failed TCA meetings.

I really hope that Liz Truss, the interim Brexit minister, recognises the vital importance of UK creative industries and that due to current Brexit rules, they are losing contracts in droves. Only by listening to and taking advice from those who really know the business, something positive might come of leaving the EU.

One worrying but little reported aspect of Brexit is the financial strain our music conservatoires are now faced with. Until very recently, these institutions were the envy of the world, places where foreign students flocked to gain degrees and performance practice. Now, EU student visas prevent paid work experience and this is reciprocal in Europe. Numbers are down by 14 per cent.

Why would a French violinist do a postgraduate course in the UK if she can’t join an orchestra or string quartet and earn a little money from it? Our musicians now cannot apply for travel visas to Europe unless they have a letter of invitation which has to be from a top tier company. I gained my reputation and work experience singing with small Belgian and French Baroque orchestras who were not particularly famous at the time. This simply can’t happen anymore, partly because of the 90 in 180 day restrictions, and expense and availability of work visas.

Universities abroad are not available to our children for (almost) free anymore. The much-mourned Erasmus scholarships, another Brexit casualty, offered placements for teaching, college staff and youth workers as well, but the replacement Turing scheme will not. Nor is there any promise of funding beyond 2022. Perhaps our government would be wise to consult the expert members of our industry instead of going straight to the private sector.

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Many in the creative industries will look ahead to 2022 with trepidation. Omicron is on the rise and the issues with the Brexit deal from 12 months ago are still problems for the arts today. My message to the government for the new year is to listen to us because we are trying to help.

Maybe heed the words of Saul Bellow, Nobel laureate. “Only art penetrates what pride, passion, intelligence and habit erect on all sides – the seeming realities of this world. There is another reality, the genuine one, which we lose sight of. This other reality is always sending us hints, which without art, we can’t receive. Proust calls these hints our ‘true impressions’.

“The true impressions, our persistent intuitions, will, without art, be hidden from us and we will be left with nothing but a ‘terminology for practical ends’ which we falsely call life.” The final sentence illustrates the consequences of the arts being further undermined.

Dame Sarah Connolly is a mezzo-soprano opera singer and fellow at the Royal College of Music


Douglas Mateo

Douglas holds a position as a content writer at Neptune Pine. His academic qualifications in journalism and home science have offered her a wide base from which to line various topics. He has a proficiency in scripting articles related to the Health industry, including new findings, disease-related, or epidemic-related news. Apart from this, Douglas writes an independent blog and assists people in living healthy life.

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