“Brexit is Brexit, The people have Voted”

Rachel Rowntree 19/03/2018

A quarter of a billion pounds a day is the staggering contribution the Creative Industries made to the UK economy in 2016. Seeing this sector growing nearly twice as quickly as the rest of the economy should surely be cause for celebration? However, this impressive amount belies the uncertainty pervading the arts since Britain voted to leave the European Union.


In the heart of London’s West End, where many of the country’s finest musicians come to work every night performing in musicals, opera houses, theatres and concert halls is found the home of the Association of British Orchestras. Mark Pemberton, Director, explains how "in order to reinforce the problems that Brexit poses for our sector" they employ the services of a public relations company to set up meetings with MP’s, Civil Servants and Special Advisors. It is no easy task: "culture is the smallest of the issues the government is dealing with and you’ve got orchestras as a sub-group of culture, we’re small fry....", he told me. An added complexity is the self-employed status of the majority of working musicians and the unpredictable nature of their work. "There is no capacity in Brexit to deal with freelancers" he lamented.

Orchestras : global ambassadors for the UK

Touring has become a lifeblood for many orchestras whose budgets are increasingly fragile. Brexit, Mark tells me "comes on the back of 30 to 50% cuts in public funding, a gap which many orchestras help to fill with international touring. The potential to leave both the single market and the customs union will provide major challenges for touring". From his office, in the vibrant, newly developed Kings Cross area, home to London’s gateway to Europe, John McMunn, General Manager of the Gabrieli Consort and Players shares these concerns:  "Our entire business strategy is predicated on the free movement of people and labour. Without the guarantee of visa-free travel in Europe, it’s difficult to see how Gabrieli could survive as it’s currently constituted". He worries, "this would affect our income dramatically! Last year Gabrieli turned over just over one million pounds, 90% of which was generated through touring (mainly in Europe)". Mark Pemberton also highlighted the "critical issue of the A1 form". When performing in Europe this exempts performers from paying social charges in two countries. Without it, the financial loss to players could be hugely damaging.

Remaining Competitive

Maintaining the quality of players in British orchestras can entail recruiting from outside the UK, as conductor and founder of the Aurora Orchestra Nicholas Collon explains: "Music is an international art-form, and in many instances the best and most appropriate players for particular jobs come from outside the UK…, In Aurora’s case, our two new co-Principal cellos come from Norway and France. There is a concern that for orchestras which work on a self-employed freelance basis,  the flexibility and freedom of movement for such players would be severely curtailed".

British orchestras indeed rely on foreign players and up to 20% of some ensembles are EU nationals: "We are not producing enough home grown musicians, so we’ve relied on talent from our colleagues in other European countries" Mark Pemberton explains. The government has introduced of a minimum earning threshold of £30,000 for non-EU nationals. Mark points out that "We are in the business of highly skilled people, and the government assume that if you are highly skilled, you are highly paid", clearly not the case for orchestral musicians whose starting salary is around £26, 000!

Funding- The Great Unknown

The uncertainty of the situation in the UK appears to be worrying some European ensembles "There is perhaps a fear amongst EU countries about the prospect of long-term relationships with a British orchestra. Several joint funding initiatives have had to be curtailed" Nicholas Collon writes. Creative Europe has assured it will continue to accept applications from UK organisations and projects until 2020, and if successful will guarantee the funding of projects, even if they are due to end after this date. After that, however the future is unknown. It is not only direct funding from Creative Europe that helps orchestras, as John McMunn highlights: "We do benefit indirectly from funding via our partners, nearly all of whom receive significant state and local subsidies". A wider concern is an increasing reliance on individual giving, trusts and corporate sponsorship. For this to continue, a solid economy is essential, something that cannot be taken for granted as Britain heads into the negotiations.

Uncertainty is enough to change a decision

It is not only performers who are concerned by Brexit. "The vast majority of academics are Remainers. We are interested in broadening minds, opening horizons, the free flow of information. Brexit sits very very uncomfortably with that", states Dr Peter Tregear, former Teaching Fellow at Royal Holloway, University of London, expressing the disquiet felt by many in academia. Tuition fees for ‘home’ students, (UK and EU nationals), are a maximum £9250 year. However these can easily double or triple for overseas students. Students applying for courses starting in 2018/2019 have government reassurances the current fee structure will not change for the duration of their course. The situation post 2020 is unknown and "that little bit of uncertainty is enough to change a decision" Dr Tregear tells me. When deciding where to study "You are investing in that country, in the cultural and political spirit of that place". Prospective students are "making a three to five year investment, in a place that is now deeply uncertain in a way that is simply not true in other places. We are expecting a tendency towards both a decline in European and international enrollments".

Alongside the world class institutions and teaching, access to the Erasmus scheme is a big draw for many students. Dr Tregear wonders whether this not being available post 2020 may discourage applicants: "Erasmus offered the chance of staying in the UK but getting a substantial international experience at the same time. If they want that experience they will now have to consider doing their entire undergrad or postgrad overseas".

Relocation, Relocation, Relocation

Brexit has already had a huge impact on two of Europe’s most prestigious training schemes for young players. Both the European Youth Orchestra (EUYO) and the European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) are in the process of leaving the UK. After 32 years based in England, EUBO are planning to relocate to Antwerp. This ensemble has alumni in many of Europe’s period instrument ensembles. Paul James Director General of EUBO has been with the orchestra since it began and is greatly saddened by the move. He feels the ensemble will "miss the UK ‘s cultural contribution". A huge loss also for those UK students who post 2020 will presumably be no longer eligible to apply.

Although the EUYO’s decision to move to Italy was not a direct result of the referendum result it certainly "hastened their plans". Marshall Marcus, CEO of the orchestra describes how "something that starts out as a threat can become an opportunity". In the aftermath of Brexit, the orchestra received invitations from seven different countries offering the orchestra a home. He describes the move to Italy as a "fantastic opportunity". He shares concerns regarding the extra administrative burden that visas, carnets and border controls may impose and is passionate that those in the arts, and further afield must "organise together" to get their voice heard. "Culture, Education and Science face common challenges and we must get together and bang the table very hard".

Banging the Table

#FreeMoveCreate is doing just that. A collaborative campaign between the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) and a-n The Artists Information Company it has brought together fifty organisations, aiming to protect flexible travel for artists, musicians, directors, producers and all working in the creative industries. Harry Vann, the ISM’s Head of External Affairs explains the campaign’s aim to get "on the radar when it comes to the negotiations. To help civil servants and ministers understand the importance of the question of freedom of movement and arm them with the right tools for the negotiations."

Brexit has also provoked some very imaginative individual campaigning. Horn player Anneke Scott felt so concerned by the lack of government assurances regarding Freedom of Movement she launched a unique postcard campaign. From her seat in the horn section, she takes a photo from every European venue she works in and sends it to her MP and other ministers. So far she has sent 400! She felt it vital to get "a voice heard before the negotiations start". Family history makes her eligible for a Portuguese passport and this seems essential now. An unexpected consequence of Brexit, she finds herself discovering a new country, language and culture, an experience she describes as "at the very heart of what the EU represents". Other musicians describe unexpected reactions to the referendum "Before I thought patriotism was alien to me but I now realise I’m extremely patriotic towards Europe and its culture. I’m proud of the history of European art and music and to be part of it" writes Alec Frank-Gemmill, Principal horn of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Hope for the Future?

These campaigns and the tireless work of people such as Mark Pemberton appear to be having an impact. On January 24th 2018 a government select committee released a report entitled "The potential impact of Brexit on the Creative Industries, tourism and the digital single market". The report acknowledges many of the concerns felt by those in the classical music business. It states "The Government must heed warnings that SMEs (small and medium enterprises) across creative industries and tourism will not have the capacity to manage a new system that foists additional bureaucracy upon them".  Regarding Freedom of Movement, "In particular, the creative industries and performing arts need a system which complements the spontaneity that defines live performance…….the Government should seek to retain free movement of people during any transitional period".  Concerning access to Creative Europe it states the government must "commit to making it an objective of negotiations to secure the UK’s ongoing participation in Creative Europe". Following this report,  on February 7th 2018 the EU Home Affairs Sub Committee heard evidence from Mark Pemberton, Andrew Hurst, Chief Executive, One Dance UK, and Horace Trubridge, General Secretary, Musicians’ Union. At the time of writing, the results of this are as yet unknown.

It appears then the government is listening to the concerns of the Creative Industries. Sustaining this voice as negotiations commence will be vital, as many of the issues relating to musical life in the UK, whether performing, training or academia remain unresolved. In addition, perhaps Brexit should make those in the arts pause for thought. It cannot be ignored that 51.9% of the United Kingdom didn’t feel invested in the European project. As Peter Tregear points out, "The obvious truth, is if you are a performer of western classical music you are already invested in a notion of pan European culture. There is a challenge, for anyone involved in western culture to look at how better we can make the case that what we are doing has a positive message. That we all share in a larger bigger political social project. One very imperfect representation of which is the European Union".



"If we become more international it could be very positive, if we become more insular it could be very damaging for culture."
Kenneth Baird, Chief Executive of the European Centre for Opera, Liverpool.

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