My composer colleague Michael Berkeley, who sits in the House of Lords, invited me to e-visit the All Party Parliamentary Group on Classical Music. No prizes for guessing the subject of our discussion: the UK’s failure to reach agreement with the EU on a visa waiver for performers, with its related problems for touring and road haulage. Since the EU Trade Agreement was signed on Christmas Eve, there had been no time at all to discuss these worse than expected arrangements before they came into force on January 1st. And indeed, mystery surrounds the current measures, and who said what to whom. But we musicians now find ourselves on the post-Brexit sweet spot where Goods (our instruments) Services (our performances) and Free Movement (being in Europe) intersect.
Fortunately, Mark Pemberton of ABO was present at this APPG session to tell the gathered Peers and MPs (an unusually large number present, we learned) what he had managed to find out about visas, carnets and cabotage. Many legislators thanked Mark and colleagues for having performed essential research which the government /exhausted civil servants had not yet got around to. There have been several other effective representations since this meeting, including a petition (with 280k+ signatures) a Commons debate triggered by this petition, and representations by some individual musicians to a further group of MPs.
One positive thing emerging in these short weeks has been the solidarity of our profession, and its breadth of musical activity. The MPs and Peers involved displayed an often intense love of some branch or other of our national music (brass bands, Celtic rock, cello playing were all referenced) and I think, some shock at what was suddenly threatening its continued viability. At the moment I feel pride in being a UK musician, but also apprehension that little will actually be done, and we’ll all just have to manage our European work issues individually (if it’s still available at all) in whatever ways we can. Mostly though, I feel sadness. Five years of national division, and really, for what ?
* Update, 18 February. Slightly better carnet news if you're personally carrying or driving your own instrument into the EU. Clearly, we're going to spend the next decade sorting out one small detail after another. Pictured above - Kennington Park Skatepark.