Brexit and Music – a record of the debate and Sir Howard Goodall’s message

Photo by Marco Mons on Unsplash

On 26 October, we held a panel event to discuss the impact of Brexit on music specifically and the Arts generally. We were joined by David Knopfler, singer-songwriter and founding member of rock group Dire Straits; Ben Osborn, based in Berlin, composer, musician who also works with asylum seekers and marginalised people using music to build connections; and Lucy Woolley, creative producer and coach and festival director of Lancaster Jazz Festival.

As a preface to the evening’s discussion, the editor-in-chief, Anthea Simmons, read out a powerful, personal message from Sir Howard Goodall which we reproduce here in full:

It’s 10 months since the beginning of Brexit’s iron curtain descended on the UK, cutting it off from its major trade partners, ending Freedom of Movement. It’s 9 months since the prime minister declared, in one of his rare breaks between holidays, that he and his ministers were working ‘flat out’ to solve the crisis affecting the live music industry as a result of Brexit. Since then, the Vote Leave government’s efforts in this respect have been minimal to the point of invisible.

Perhaps the reason for this is that what the music industry knew all along, and every other exporting industry is now also discovering, is that the obstacles put in our way illuminate with absurd clarity one of, if not the greatest of all the lies told by the Brexit campaign before the referendum: namely, that the control of borders, who works where, for how long, for what price, and based on what requirements, regulations and conditions, is a matter not for ‘unelected EU bureaucrats in Brussels’, that old myth, but for each member state’s sovereign government. Yes, each of the 27 EU member states decides who may cross their borders and what permits they will allow for work within them. When we were members of the EU we also had control over immigration and inbound work permits. Our service industries, of which music is a conspicuously successful one, were entirely left out of Lord Frost’s much-heralded TCA deal with the EU on our withdrawal. Our services sector, remember, is 80% of our export economy. Not only was the omission of them from the TCA an act of gross negligence, it was an act of economic madness for the UK. So it’s frankly a massive embarrassment for the Brexit government that they now have to go cap in hand to the EU, our former allies, friends and neighbours, to try and repair the enormous damage they have done and continue to do to the livelihoods of the many, many thousands of people working in the creative industries. No wonder they are dragging their heels. And leaving aside the economic aspect of all this, what possible benefit can ever come from shutting ourselves off culturally from these same friends, allies and partners, by closing down creative exchange with them? What kind of person goes into politics with this grim, two-fingers-to-the-neighbours gesture as their legacy?

The young won’t put up with this. It’ll end, the Brexit iron curtain, one day, and we’ll ask ourselves how we let the damage go on as long as we did. The priority now is to make sure the truth survives, the facts prevail, the voice of dissent is still heard, and we do not hand the next generation a shrug of apathy but the outstretched hand of solidarity.

Howard Goodall CBE 24 October 2021

The discussion that evolved was both illuminating and disturbing and you can listen to the debate here:

We always try to end these sessions with a call to action.

  1. Keep writing to your MP to highlight the issues caused by the ending of freedom of movement and of frictionless trade.
  2. Support your local artists and musicians wherever possible and buy from sources that pass on revenue to the artists themselves rather than to Jeff Bezos!
  3. Get involved in the Arts…art is for everyone and, in these difficult times, is more important for our mental health and wellbeing than ever.