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Webinar Report: the Impact of the Withdrawal Agreement on the Creative Arts Industries
31 Jul, 2021

Alastair Gordon reviews the webinar held on 17 June 2021. Despite its size and significance, the creative arts industry has been largely overlooked by the proponents of Brexit. While some of the damage is irreversible, lines of action are proposed for the European Movement and other actors to minimise it.


  • Howard Goodall, composer and TV/radio presenter
  • Tom Kiehl, Deputy CEO and Director of Public Affairs at UK Music Ltd
  • Sarah Williams, Vice Chair of The Musicians’ Union (and freelance trombone player) with wide European experience

Moderator: Andy Pye, Secretary, London4Europe

View Webinar

Value of UK creative arts industries

According to the 2019 Music by Numbers report, the UK music industry is valued at £5.2 billion. This does not take into account the improvement of people’s cognitive abilities by music. which may save the NHS at least £70 million per annum in reduced visits to GPs. The music industry also employs 200,000 people. By way of comparison, the value of the creative arts industries as a whole is comparable to that of the construction industry and far exceeds that of the fishing industry, on which so much Government effort was expended in the Brexit context.

Music and the other creative arts have been an important UK export to the EU including TV, drama, musicals and dance (for example, one in five albums sold in Belgium are by British artists) and are a significant element in the country’s wider soft power.

Negotiations on Brexit and the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement

The Government were ‘criminally irresponsible’ in totally ignoring how Brexit was likely to affect the creative industries (as well as the financial services sector etc) in spite of continued representations about this by the Musicians’ Union and others.

Subsequent agreements with small states like Liechtenstein and distant ones like Australia were of relatively little value compared with the EU, a market of 400m people. There is no clarity on the extent to which the Government may be aiming to negotiate further either with the EU or with individual member states.

The creative industries are not regarded as a political priority by the Government, and the sponsoring Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Oliver Dowden, their Secretary of State, have a relatively lowly status in Whitehall.

Problems of Brexit for the music industry

Some one-off deals have been made by individual musicians and individual orchestras etc (eg the London Symphony Orchestra going to the Aix-en-Provence festival), but there is still a general problem in different countries’ arrangements for visas and permits for individuals and small groups and with the carnets that cover each separate instrument, permitting one year export and import, but which need bank guarantees.

Because of the muddying effect of COVID the full impact of Brexit is not yet clear, but some of the other issues identified include:

  • Cabotage arrangements introduce restrictions on “imported” vehicles which affect band/orchestra vehicles that can no longer travel freely from country to country within the EU2, but must stick to defined itineraries
  • The vibrant purchase and sale of second-hand instruments will incur VAT for the first time and the need for precise and detailed declarations etc
  • Extra difficulties arise for period instruments that may require approval under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species with checks at certain border points only
  • British exclusion from continuing work on the EU’s copyright directive which originated in a British initiative
  • The effect on musicians’ career progression through exclusion from such appointments as orchestra chairs
  • 20% of UK musicians considering changing careers because of Brexit
  • The Government’s immigration policies are causing difficulties in finding musicians from EU states to work in UK.

The effect on the EU

Both the UK and the EU are impoverished by the reduction in cultural contacts, but the EU’s main cultural centres stand to benefit from UK withdrawal (as with the financial services sector) and a talent drain from the UK is already starting, including start-ups for digital engineers and technicians.

Government action on the music industry’s problems

Oliver Dowden himself appears sympathetic to trying to resolve the industry’s problems and a working group has been set up under Caroline Dinenage, Minister for the Creative Industries, but this is meeting only about once a month and quicker action is needed. The Musicians’ Union has made available a flow chart on working in Europe, but the Government remains reluctant to give guidance to musicians – for example, on how to fulfil entry requirements for particular EU countries - the Home Office Border Control is leaning heavily on EU musicians seeking entry to the UK, such as in regard to the permitted paid-engagement levels and ability to pick up extra performances.

There is no sign of financial support being made available to the industry (as it has been in some other countries and in the UK for the fishing industry) or encouragement by the setting up of an export office.

Some lines for further action by the European Movement

  • The main emphasis must be on seeking to awaken public opinion to the industry’s value and its problems, in order to bring more pressure to bear on Ministers and MPs through their constituents. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Music has over 100 members, but perhaps a wider list of supportive MPs and Lords (including prominent Brexiters like Bernard Jenkin) could be generally circulated. Sympathetic MEPs like Bernd Lange, Chair of the Parliament’s Committee on International Trade, should also be cultivated.
  • Government action is vital to improve visa arrangements, in particular, and to offer some financial support.
  • Some British cities are effective cultural hubs and these could be encouraged to increase their EU contacts (cf the success of town-twinning). Perhaps some financial arrangements could be made to assist other potential networks on the lines of the Government’s free-ports initiative?
  • In general, the younger generation were more in favour of European contacts than their seniors and more should be done to harness this enthusiasm.
  • Some of the damage done by Brexit would be irreversible, but the UK must step by step build back on the basic structures that were left, with the aim of rejoining the Customs’ Union and the Single Market when this became politically practicable.


Andy Pye as Secretary and Richard Newcombe as Chair of London4Europe wound up the session. Their next London4Europe Committee Meeting would consider the points raised and the lines of action suggested.

Alastair Gordon
L4E volunteer and retired Civil Service Principal

London4Europe blogs are edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.

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Andrew (Andy) Pye
published this page in Latest blogs 2021-07-31 10:22:09 +0100