Midge Ure talks about the impact of Brexit on British creative industries

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We were promised a real treat yesterday evening.

Those of us who remember the 80s will know that Midge Ure was the lead singer of Ultravox. Significantly he was also one of the organisers of Band Aid and Live Aid, as well as co-writer of Do they know it’s Christmas. And here he was ‘in conversation’ with the BBC’s Gavin Esler and Lib Dem peer Paul Strasburger at our own Conference.

Of course, he had an axe to grind. If you think Covid-19 has damaged the music industry – and that is certainly true –  it is also reeling from the impact of Brexit. Back in January LDV highlighted the Lib Dem campaign about the huge bureaucracy that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for British musicians to tour and perform across Europe.

Gavin Esler began by stating that the creative industries in the UK are admired across the world – “they are the UK’s soft power”.

All three speakers were keen to explain that the post-Brexit issues not only affect music, across all genres, but also theatre, dance and even trade shows. Touring is the lifeblood of many of the performing arts; and for musicians it is often the best or only way to generate an income, now that streaming has substantially reduced income from recordings. And it doesn’t just impact on the performers but also on the livelihoods of all the support staff.

The difficulties seem to coalesce around two main problems. The first is trucking. Performances given in Europe by orchestras or well-established theatre companies, or by bands playing to large venues, need to move their equipment, instruments, sets, lighting and sound systems in trucks. Under the Brexit deal the trucks are only allowed to do two drops before returning to the UK.  Of course, very many tours will go to more than two venues – indeed they need to do so to be profitable. On top of that a huge amount of documentation is required, listing every item carried by the trucks.

A couple of years ago I was chatting with the Transport Manager for one of the major orchestras in the UK, and was astonished (though I shouldn’t have been) at the complexity of organising a tour across several countries with 50+ musicians plus other staff. One of his aims was to reduce the stress on the artists, so they could perform well. The logistics were challenging then – now they would be almost impossible.

The second problem is obtaining the temporary work visas required by at least 10 European countries for everyone in the entourage – performers, sound engineers, roadies etc. This is a bureaucratic nightmare.

Paul Strasberger explained that the negotiations in the EU Trade Deal were largely carried out by the Business Department and hardly involved DCMS, where there might have been some understanding of the predicament. The Government saw it simply as an immigration issue that was in conflict with its promise to control our borders, when it was nothing of the sort, since it was only dealing with temporary work.

Midge Ure pointed out that virtually everyone loves music in some form or another, and it is an integral part of our lives.  He asked: “How would it affect people if we stopped music for a week? How would we feed our souls?” (Ah, the Lysistrata strategy…)

However, he is quietly optimistic. The campaign is being backed across the political parties. And it seems to me that the full impact will become apparent to the general public once we come out of Covid-19 restrictions and touring is permitted again.

Finally, Paul Strasberger reminded us that Liberal Democrat parliamentarians have been taking the lead on this issue. It was they who organised the letter to the Times in January signed by an eclectic list of 110 musicians, including Elton John, Simon Rattle, Nicola Benedetti, Judith Weir, Ned Sherrin and Brian May. They have raised the problems 5 times in the House of Commons and 13 times in the Lords.

Don’t let this Government stop the music … or the drama, or the dance.

 

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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