Many UK musicians and managers are becoming increasingly concerned over the effect that a ‘hard’ Brexit will have on the British festival scene. Worries of an end to the freedom of movement are widespread amongst artists and performers whose tours rely on the ease of mobility around Europe.

After the UK officially leaves the EU, foreign musicians can expect to face stricter border controls, lengthy Tier 2 Work Visa application processes and costly requirements of visas and tour carnets. As a result, around 1,000 EU-based bands and artists say they are likely to stop travelling to the UK once it transforms into a post-Brexit Britain.

Tour carnets are expensive legal documents which necessitate the declaration of all equipment being taken into the UK.  As a significant reason why many musicians don’t tour in America, carnets have to be renewed every year, costing individual artists up to £500 and touring bands up to £2000.

Expenses like carnets will predominantly affect smaller, up-and-coming artists, many of whom will be unable to financially cope with the rise in touring costs. This effect will be intensified by the potential loss of EU cultural funding which supports a variety of small and large-scale organisations, ranging from £3,900 to £1.8 million. With a number of small projects reliant on EU funding to support their work, many have cited fears that they will be unable to afford visas needed to travel to the UK and around Europe.

Those also fearful include self-employed individuals and freelancers who, according to the recent Brexit Confederation of British Industry (CBI) report, make up 70% of all musicians and performing artists.  With a third of those being  EU migrants, the financial barriers of visas, carnets and safety checks will make it even harder to combat the struggles of touring without the same level of resources that big companies have access to.

European festival-goers have also expressed their reluctance to attend UK music events post-Brexit due to the possible introductions of visas and carnets. A third of Italians and Spaniards and 30% of Germans admitted that the ‘Leave’ vote makes them highly reluctant to travel to the UK. With the festival industry contributing £4.4 billion to the UK’s economy in 2017, such a high loss of EU attendance could be detrimental to an industry that’s success is already often unsteady.

Despite a 39% rise in overseas tourists attending music events over the last 4 years, many festivals fail to generate large sums of profit. Glastonbury, the UK’s largest festival, has a turnover of £37 million however, its profits fall short of just £86,000, equalling to 50p profit per ticket. Therefore, the 823,000 EU festival music tourists that visited the UK last year are fundamental to the continuance of the British festival scene.

Criticisms have also sparked over the Home Office’s refusal of visa applications including the rejection of leading authors at the Edinburgh Fringe festival and three musical acts scheduled for WOMAD festival.  Accused of ‘starving UK arts festivals’ and ‘killing off music’, the Home Office denied entry to acts such as Wazimbo from Mozambique and Sabry Mosbah from Tunisia and forced them to either cut their sets or cancel their performances. Channel 4’s Jon Snow took his rage to social media, tweeting that the governments ‘hostile environment’ policy had extended into the music scene, bringing up the question as to why a Festival of World Music could possibly refuse entry of musicians from around the world.

It is not surprising that the attitudes of creative industries towards a post-Brexit world remain some of the most unified. 96% of the Creative Industries Federation (CIF) voted ‘remain’ in the 2016 referendum and 78% of record labels have said they still want to remain in the EU. With the free movement of talent being vital for creative success, many artists are concerned over their reputations and how the restriction of international access will impact the scale of their audiences and sales.

Music tourism has boosted employment in recent years with 47,445 full time jobs being maintained in 2016. With 10% of these workers having an EU passport, EU migrants play a considerable role in the industry from skilled labour work needed in production crews to lower-skilled work such as stewarding and security.  The recent Brexit CBI report stresses the impact that the loss of mobility could have on the UK’s music industry. The ability to move workers across borders on a temporary basis, without putting them through lengthy application processes, is essential for the success of international companies.

Chief Executive of UK Music, Michael Dugher, has offered one ‘practical’ solution to the threat to global mobility in the form of ‘touring passports’. Acting as a visa arrangement, these would allow artists and production teams to travel across borders at short notice and would minimise financial restrictions. The former Labour MP continues to press the idea to the government’s Migration Advisory committee who are yet to provide the clarity and certainty needed to push forward any concrete plans for the music industry.


Maddie Grounds is a political commentator at the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation which advises on and assists with a range of private and corporate immigration needs.