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Brexit’s Toll On Britain’s Creative Industries: The Sadness and Madness that Awaits

Composer Howard Goodall sets out what performers will need to know in a post-Brexit world and reflects on the sorrow of the Government’s desire to erect barriers, when the job of creatives is to tear them down

Photo: Pixabay

Brexit’s Toll On Britain’s Creative IndustriesThe Sadness & Madness that Awaits

Composer Howard Goodall sets out what performers will need to know in a post-Brexit world and reflects on the sorrow of the Government’s desire to erect barriers, when the job of creatives is to tear them down

2020 has been a disastrous year for the performing arts around the world.

For Britain, whose creative industries are so huge a part of our economy (pre-COVID-19, they were responsible for an annual value of £111 billion and three million jobs, making them our second biggest exporter, after financial services), it has been particularly worrying. 

Other countries whose governments have handled the pandemic more effectively than ours have creative sectors that are in a less perilous state. In Queensland, Australia, theatres and concert venues were able to return to 100% capacity this week; in South Korea they have been re-opened for most of the year.

The Chancellor allocated a little more than a hundredth of that annual GDP contribution of £111 billion towards a Cultural Recovery Fund for mothballed arts organisations, particularly those with buildings and salaried permanent staff. The freelancers whose work provides the content of those venues have had a much rougher time of it.

The same government that was super-keen to insist that client cultural organisations who received the recovery fund publicly thanked them (rather than, perhaps, the taxpayers?) is about to deliver – unique to Britain – a horrible follow-up sting in the tail.

What follows is a snapshot of what performers and creative artists of all kinds are about to face, in fewer than 50 days time, thanks to this Vote Leave Government’s Brexit policy. The EU is our biggest and nearest market, and one reason our creative industries have become so successful over the past 30 or so years is by becoming the Single Market’s cultural hub and thriving on the inward and outbound exchange of skills afforded by freedom of movement.

If you are a creative artist, this is what you need to know come 1 January (or, realistically, the date after that when our industry can climb out from the COVID-19 bomb shelter).

Visas for Every EU Member State

First you will need a passport with at least six months left on it. And you’ll need full travel/third party/health insurance, since if you get ill or have an accident every penny of your care will have to be paid for. This is because the EHIC, the reciprocal health care benefit we have enjoyed as member of the EU, ceases to operate (for most UK citizens) on 1 January 2021.

To perform, to tour or to film, or engage in any creative employment, you’re going to need a work visa, just like you do for the US. But here’s the thing. Work permits and visas and the conditions attached are a matter not for the EU but for the member states themselves. Yes, every member state controls who comes in and who doesn’t, and what the rules will be for work and residency. It’s almost as if the Brexiters have been lying about this all along. EU members control their own borders, especially when it comes to permission to work.

So you’ll need to get a work permit for every country you’re intending to work or gig in and the rules are often different, as are, for example, the rules on taxation of that work – a situation that hasn’t and won’t change but which demonstrates how country-specific these matters are and always have been. So, for instance, Spain and France collect withholding tax from non-residents on the work undertaken in their territories, Holland and Denmark do not.

This website offers helpful and constantly-updating advice on the different work visas, permits and conditions attached for member states of the EU. Just like getting a work visa for the US, applying for one to work in an EU member state will cost you money and time.

The price of the visa itself (not including all the required conditions of insurance, accommodation, tickets and so on) varies from country to country. A work visa for Germany is €75, for example, France is €99, Spain €67, and you will need to get one for all the countries that you plan to work or tour in. These figures may not seem punitive in themselves, but a chamber orchestra of say 35 players on a concert tour of three EU countries would be needing to find an additional £7,000-9,000 in sponsorship just for the visas. Some more useful information on applying for a work visa in a European country can be found here.

So, to recap, every EU member state controls its own borders and tax regime. This fact is the exact opposite of the propaganda that has been spread by the Leave campaign and their leaders for the past five or more years.

Artists from non-European countries, such as Brazil or Australia, have politely pointed out to British musicians that we in the UK are about to suffer the administrative ordeal that they have all had to suffer in order to perform here for the past few decades.

We are about to jump the same bureaucratic hurdles that they have long had to jump and we are only getting a dose of our own medicine. This of course is true, though we in the arts, at least, have been saying just as loudly over the past few years that the UK Government’s ‘hostile environment’ regime – rolled-out initially by Theresa May as Home Secretary, now substantially enlarged and even more rigorously enforced by Priti Patel – is also bad for our industry.

Not just because the creative sector is so reliant on niche skills being available here in Britain at short notice often on short-term contracts (in some fields of television and film more than 20% of the workforce are EU citizens) but arts festivals and events have been finding it ever more difficult, costly and time-consuming to bring performers or speakers into the UK and have been flagging this issue vociferously for the past four years. Festivals are also acutely aware that a large number of their customers are from neighbouring EU countries, who will now have to pay for a tourist visa to come to a concert. Or not.

One more detail on visas. In Germany, you need to verify a contract to work there, the verification needs a passport, and the new Brexity-Blue UK passports are incompatible with the ID system they use, because the layout inside has been altered from the standard EU one we had before. Here’s Louise in Munich discovering this for herself the other day. Doubtless it will be the competently run, arts-friendly German Government which will make the necessary adjustments to its system to help British performers out.

A Prime Minister who can’t even comb his hair for Remembrance Day is hardly going to get a passport cock-up sorted, is he?

Equipment Requirements

If you play an instrument, or have DJ gear, sound and lighting kit, you’ll need an ‘ATA Carnet’ for it, to cross the EU border and any borders within the EU thereafter. This applies to all kinds of professional equipment you may need.

You get an ATA Carnet from the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry and they cost £351.60 each (or £562.80 for its express two-hour service). After 12 months, they have to be renewed at the same price.

If you have multiple instruments or pieces of professional equipment they can be aggregated onto one ATA Carnet, which is what some bands and all orchestras do, where the gear is all in one shipment. Whilst the cost of the Carnet remains the same, there are considerable logistic challenges about larger shipments so if you’re touring Ed Sheeran or the London Symphony Orchestra you have full-time employees who can handle it.

As with everything else about Brexit, it is the small businesses – the self-employed and the early-careerers – who will bear the brunt of the burden because they will have to manage all this mountain of red tape themselves. With orchestras (and some bands) carrying instruments of enormous individual value they need to factor in bonds and deposits on these mega-carnets, financial services that don’t come free, either.

The point about the Carnet (which exists across the world in varying forms but which we haven’t needed as member of the EU for European travel) is that it treats the export and any other duties on your gear as a single in/out entity. There is an alternative to getting a Carnet but – as someone who has travelled the world with sound, music, or lighting gear – you need something solid and universally recognised that any hard-pressed customs officer at any airport or station, in the middle of the night or during a busy period, knows what they’re looking at and how to process it, or you will experience very long, stressful hours and quite possibly a scheduling disaster.

The alternative is the so-called ‘Duplicate List’ procedure. Some people favour it because it is free, which is self-evidently a good thing. Though it is not free in terms of your time on form-filling. You need to create two detailed lists of all your equipment, with serial numbers and itemised values, on headed stationary, and fill in HMRC form C & E 1246.

You need to travel with the gear as accompanied baggage, so it wouldn’t suit a band, choir or orchestra whose equipment often travels by separate carriage or by freight. The list must be identical on re-entry as at exit (there are restrictions connected to repairs and modifications whilst abroad) and there may be customs duty implications on your return (hence the HMRC’s insistence on the C & E 1246 declaration). A good source of information about this is here.

Using an agency to decide whether to go down the Carnet or Duplicate List routes is always an option if you have the wherewithal to pay someone else to do the drudge, though all import-export agencies right now are totally snowed-under, for the obvious looming sh*tstorm reasons. Boomerang Carnets is one such, and it has this helpful summary of the choice as it stands on the eve of a Brexit crash-out:

“The Duplicate List can be useful when travelling to another EU country to prove, upon return to the UK, that no VAT is owed. When Brexit occurs, and the UK is no longer part of the EU’s Customs Union, travellers and shippers will be subject to duties and VAT when travelling from the UK to the EU with temporarily exported goods. ATA Carnets will then be a more useful tool than a Duplicate List since it serves as the entry and exit documents for the countries of origination and the destination.”

If, for any reason, the specialist equipment or instrument you take with you is going to stay in the EU when you come home (you sell, rent it, or give it away), the UK Government will require from you a C88 (SAD) export declaration (a mere eight parts, 12 pages to complete). If you have a lot of equipment don’t forget that the boxes, crates and pallets have to be ISMP15 compliant or you may get turned back at the border.

Oh, and if your (valuable, old) instrument contains materials derived from any endangered species, such as ivory from elephants, you will need either a FED0172 certificate or a CITES form too, from the APHA Centre in Bristol.

Another option, for some, is to hire your gear once you’ve crossed over into the EU, which might work fine for backline or PA-type rigs, but most musicians want to use the actual instruments they own, as do photographers, DJs, sound mixers, and so on. Filming in Beijing once with a tight schedule and budget, we took what we thought was the expedient decision to hire cameras and digital stock in situ, to find on day one of the shoot (of only four) that the formats of the rental equipment were all wrong and new stock had to be hastily re-ordered at enormous expense and shipped from Hong Kong, losing us a day’s filming in the process.

Remember, you need to get offered the gig in the first place, competing against our creative counterparts still in the EU, none of whom will cost their employer any of this additional expense or bureaucratic hassle. It’ll be the same for dancers, actors, singers, designers, editors, photographers, models, you name it. Here’s one actor’s experience, which is, sadly, pretty typical.

Crossing the Channel

Then there’s getting there. You’ll need your van or haulier to get an EU haulage licence – neither quick nor cheap nor easy (around 80,000 hauliers in the UK are currently after one of the 1,800 currently available).

Crossing from a non-EU country to an EU one by lorry you’ll need to factor in a long-ish wait at the border. The pre-Brexit average waiting time for document processing at Dover-Calais was a few minutes per vehicle, whereas Ukraine to Poland (non-EU to EU) can be anything from one to 32 hours. You can even watch the waiting times for each border crossing point in real time, for example here.

Bear in mind that considerably fewer HGVs and vans cross between Ukraine and Poland than cross the Channel to England and that, instead of multiple land road border points, there’s that bottleneck of Dover-Calais taking the lion’s share of traffic to and from Britain, and you can get an idea of what’s in store for our poor haulage industry. Its alarm is becoming more obvious by the day.

If you prefer to understand the Brexit haulage nightmare via an individual’s experience rather than a national organisation battling with an increasingly dysfunctional Government, you could do a lot worse than follow the excellent Ciaran the Euro Courier on Twitter who is delightfully frank and extremely well-informed.

By the way, these rules and restrictions listed above mostly don’t apply to going to the Republic of Ireland. As if we could love our long-suffering, westerly neighbours any more.

When you get across the Channel, you need to check with your phone provider whether it has or has not imposed the new higher data roaming charges that can apply now the UK has withdrawn from the EU’s roam-anywhere deal. If you connect with your fans/followers/customers via social media using phone networks, these costs could be colossal, so make sure that you know the answer to this or wait till you find somewhere with free wi-fi. How long the major networks keep the lower charges into 2021 will need to be monitored, especially if sterling takes another tumble as bad as the one it took after the 2016 Referendum.

Perhaps you have heard about the possibility of an Artists’ or Musicians’ Passport, advocated by creative industry unions such as The Musicians’ Union, which will save all this bother and expense. You can read its campaign, sign its petition here and read its open letter to the Government on the imminent threat to livelihoods in the creative industries, and the lack of clarity with so little time left to prepare for 1 January, here.

However, as I write, this is a dream not a reality. I doubt the words ‘Artists’ Passport’ have even crossed the EU negotiator Lord Frost’s lips. That’s because Frost and his Brexit Overlords in Downing Street are way more concerned about fishing – an industry more than one hundred times smaller than the creative sector.

Don’t get me wrong, neither I nor anyone in the creative world has anything against the wholly understandable struggle of coastal communities and the uncertainty of their future. Their genuine predicament, though, has been weaponised over the past five years by unscrupulous politicians who had said nothing when the UK’s fishing quotas were sold to foreign companies long before all this, and who seem not to have noticed that the fishing industry’s problems are as much to do with access to their main export market (the EU) as with territorial waters and what’s swimming in them.

This is but one example of what is happening to them, thanks to Brexit, posted by a shellfish-exporting business in Scotland.

Building Barriers

Writing this is both frustrating and heartbreaking. We are all in the same capsizing boat together, enterprises of all sizes and kinds, as are the self-employed across the country, in every field; we are not at loggerheads with each other, since we are all facing the same chaotic nightmare of red tape, confusion and expense.

As far as can be gleaned from the documents published about the negotiations underway, none of the issues I have outlined will be resolved in the flimsy deal Boris Johnson will try to sell as a triumph, and for which he will be applauded by his press baron cheerleaders from their tax havens overseas. I sincerely hope I am wrong and there is something, anything, however paltry, to ameliorate some of the misery ahead for our industry. 

Everything we do as creative artists is about removing barriers between people. We do collaboration, reducing conflict, bringing people closer, unity, friendship, enjoyment and shared experience. We’ll cope, somehow, of course, but forgive us for thinking that the putting up of all these new hurdles and frontiers is pointless, regressive and counter-productive – and that the swindlers who sold the empty, nationalist elixir are people with a lamentable grasp of who and what contributes to our country’s wealth and well-being.

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