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ISM Chief Executive, Deborah Annetts' speech for Westminster Media Forum 15 June 2021


At the end of December 2020 the Trade and Cooperation Agreement was published. I remember sitting at home leafing through it on my iPad wondering where the provisions were on the movement of musicians and their instruments. I went through all the annexes repeatedly and could not see anything. I emailed my colleagues and asked them if I was missing something. And they confirmed there was nothing there. This came as a huge shock.

We had repeatedly been told by Government not to worry. They had made an offer to the EU called a Mode 4 proposal and everything would be OK. The Government had been advised by the ISM and others since 2018 what the issues would be – the movement of people eg musicians and the movement of goods as in instruments and equipment. So I got in touch with the Institute for Government and they advised that they thought the mode 4 proposal was never going to work. But there might be something we could do to sort out some of the issues.

International touring represents an essential part of the music industry, with 44% of musicians earning up to half of their income in the EU before the pandemic.

The creative industries are hugely successful, employing over three million people and growing more than five times faster than the national economy. Music is a key component, contributing £5.8 billion to the UK economy annually. The UK boasts an impressive music scene that affords us a prominent cultural platform on the world stage.

Europe is one of the most important marketplaces for touring musicians. Working in the EU – whether that involves performing, recording, teaching, collaborating or other activities – is an essential part of the musician’s ability to earn. There is not enough work available in the UK for musicians to sustain their livelihoods so they must travel abroad. Previous research by the ISM found that:

  • 44% of respondents earn up to half of their earnings in the EU (54% in 2016)
  • 32% spend more than 30 days in the EU for work a year (41% in 2018)

In our most recent survey which came out in May 2021, the research found that 77% of musicians expect their earnings in Europe to decrease.

The survey also revealed how performers are considering moving to Europe or changing career due to the extra costs of touring after Brexit. One even said: ‘It seems a complete nightmare…As it is, we see no way to recover our pre-Brexit working schedule making survival very difficult’.

The likely decrease in earnings in Europe is due to the additional documents required for musicians (like work permits and visas) and for equipment (customs documents like ATA Carnets). Transport expenses have also risen due to new road haulage requirements and some survey respondents expect that when combined, all these costs could add up to £15,000 extra costs per tour.

The survey also found that, as a direct result of leaving the EU:

  • Only 43% of musicians are still planning tours or shows in the EU in the future.
  • 42% of musicians would consider relocating to the EU in order to continue working.
  • 21% are considering a change of career

Comments from the survey included:

  • ‘I’ve lost £40,000 already.’
  • ‘The additional visas, work permits and carnets may mean that touring the continent is a financial loss for us.’
  • ‘European employers are asking for EU Passport holders only already'
  • ‘The current situation is a disaster for the UK music industry.’
  • ‘Brexit seems insurmountable to my previous European life as a musician’.

So the trade deal with the EU is adding costs and bureaucracy in the form of visas, work permits, ATA Carnets, CITES regulations, and cabotage restrictions. These new rules threaten the financial viability of touring, particularly for young and emerging artists, at a time when the sector is already suffering due to COVID-19.

The ISM has been inundated with personal testimonies from musicians who are facing a crisis of livelihood. Musicians are already losing work in Europe and many EU promoters and venues are no longer hiring UK passport holders. EU freelancers are being ‘preferentially engaged’ over British citizens as they are ‘easier for the orchestra to book’.

In May 2021 we published another survey which showed how the Brexit Trade Deal has been a disaster for music businesses such as tour operators, instrument manufacturers and retailers as well as those involved in recording, music publishing and sale of music. One person even said ‘the era of being a UK-based concert artist is pretty much over’.

The survey found that;

  • 94% of businesses say the Trade Deal has had a negative or very negative impact
  • Only 9% say the Government guidance was adequate in helping to prepare their business for the new trade rules.
  • 79% of businesses were concerned or very concerned about the future of their business over the next 12 to 24 months.
  • 85% of respondents that operate tours in the EU, said new cabotage limits for haulage vehicles will cause moderate or severe disruption for their business.
  • 73% of businesses reported a decline in trading opportunities with EU partners due to the new trade rules.
  • 62% of businesses had experienced import or export delays due to the new trade rules.
  • 42% of respondents that temporarily move goods between the UK and EU said the new ATA Carnet rules would have a negative or very negative impact on their business.

The survey went on to explore the reasons for this crisis. The most common problems were the additional paperwork (72%), change in transportation costs (56%) and disruption at UK borders (47%). But other concerns included customs duties or levies (45%) and custom clearance problems (44%) and destination countries changing their border restrictions (33%)

    Finding a solution for visas and work permits

    Because the EU and UK failed to reach an agreement on a visa waiver for artist and performers, Member States can now choose to treat UK citizens as ‘visa nationals’ when entering that country for paid work and require a visa and/or work permit.

    A visa is a document which gives a person the right to enter or leave the country or territory for which it was issued.

    In response to a lack of clear, country-specific guidance from the Government, the ISM produced the most comprehensive document in the sector outlining the new rules for every country in Europe. It is regularly updated and is free to all on our website.

    One way around this is a Visa Waiver Agreement and this is something the whole of the creative industries have been lobbying Government for over the past few months.

    We believe that a bespoke visa waiver agreement with the EU for the creative and cultural sector would solve one key area of red tape and add a greater level of certainty for the future. Benefiting a limited number of professions, this is entirely compatible with the Government’s manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders.

    Work permits

    Unlike visas, EU Member States retain sovereign power over work permit rules.

    These arrangements (including costs) vary greatly between country and by the length and purpose of the stay. For example, Portugal offers a free temporary stay visa, Greece has a minimal cost of €16 to cover printing costs but work permits in Denmark and Norway cost around £500. We identified 12 EU countries which require work permits or similar (employment/residence permits) for stays of up to 90 days.

    In addition to the costs, applications often require additional paperwork and expenditure that may not be immediately clear. These include multiple copies of documents, translation of documents, certification of documents, police certificates, proof of higher education qualifications, proof of income and health insurance.

    As applications have to be made in person, travel costs and time off work and rehearsals also have to be taken into consideration. If a visa and/or work permit application requires the passport to be sent off, this prevents musicians travelling to other countries to work whilst the application is processed.

    We believe that the Government should start now bilateral discussions with individual EU Member States that do not offer cultural exemptions for work permits, such as Spain, Italy, and Portugal, or which are financially the most important to UK musicians.

    Guidance on Government websites

    It is of concern that rather than using the knowhow of specialists in the music sector to put together useful guidance for the creative industries touring into Europe instead so far DCMS seem to be using the services of Deloitte who have no experience of overseas touring whether it be music or theatre. This is a complex area which needs real first hand experience so we have urged Government to talk to the people who actually make tours happen on the ground so that their guidance is both accurate and up to date.


    DCMS is still changing its advice on the issue of carnets. We urgently need clear government guidance on how the exemption for accompanied instruments will work in practice for touring musicians when they cross borders in the EU.


    Musicians travelling with instruments or accessories containing protected materials such as Bubinga, Brazilian rosewood, ivory, abalone and tortoiseshell need to obtain a Musical Instrument Certificate (MIC). The application is currently free and the permit is valid for three years. However, the holder must travel through CITES-designated point of entry and exit to allow customs authorities to endorse the certificate when entering or leaving the UK. These new rules prevent musicians from travelling through Eurostar, which is not listed as a CITES-designated point of entry or exit. We have heard reports suggesting that at some borders, the offices for stamping and checking Carnet and CITES certificates are in different locations.

    Northern Ireland will remain part of the EU CITES zone, meaning that CITES permits will be required to move goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. For the movement of CITES specimens from GB to NI, and NI to GB, CITES import and export checks will all happen in Northern Ireland. Individuals can use any point of entry/exit from GB but must use one of the CITES-designated points of entry/exit in NI (Belfast International, Belfast Seaport, and Larne).

    The ISM is particularly concerned by the Government’s plans to conduct a review of the fees and charges for MICs ahead of a scheduled implementation date in April 2022. We are lobbying for the MIC application form to be streamlined and simplified for musical instruments and to stop the Government charging for this certificate.


    There seems to be a lot of confusion at the moment as to the rules which apply to musicians if they are touring across Europe using a splitter van or a car which is carrying their personal gear. So please do keep an eye on the ISM website for news on this complicated area.


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