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Musicians Working Overseas: An Update on Brexit and New Resources

MU Head of International Dave Webster updates members on news and report findings surrounding musicians and Brexit, new MU resources and a roundup of recent and upcoming panels, events and showcases he has attended to help promote the MU and its work overseas.

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By Dave Webster Published: 27 September 2023 | 6:46 PM Updated: 28 September 2023 | 2:03 PM
Person stood at the edge of railway platform with guitar in case, holding a passport.
With a new resource page and a webinar in October, we continue to work to develop our resources. Image credit: Shutterstock.

On the 7 September I attended the Sussex Branch of the European Movement event ‘Unlock The Music’ in Brighton. With Jonty Bloom (presenter and journalist) moderating, Tom Kiehl (UK Music), Hanna Madalksa-Gayer (Association of British Orchestras) and I set out the impact the UK’s departure from the EU is having on the music industry. The audience also heard from UK Bass player Heather Bird (now living in Portugal) and Brexit activist Peter Cook.

During the research for my 10-minute speech, it became clear that there is a groundswell of opinion that Brexit has failed the UK and an increasing view that the UK should seek to rejoin. The referendum of 2016 is now an obsolete benchmark, the voting demographic has changed considerably and those who couldn’t vote in 2016 are now being impacted by a decision they had no say in.

However, it begs the question around how do we get the toothpaste back in the tube? Short of rejoining, are solutions to fix the failings of Brexit through ‘a major rewriteof Britain’s Brexit deal as recently reported in the press perhaps the best way forward?

Exploring the impact of Brexit on musicians

In September I attended the Reeperbahn Showcase/Festival in Hamburg. I was speaking on a panel at the Brexit InfoPoint Symposium, meeting industry colleagues from the UK and further afield. I am keen to understand more about the impact Brexit has had on musicians from the EU coming to the UK. The EU officials will say leaving the EU is asymmetrical, but I wonder if that really is the case for our industry?

Following my trip to Germany, I will be attending the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool in October to speak to Labour politicians, party members and attend events, as well as assisting colleagues on the MU stand in the trade fair.

In 2024 we will hopefully be seeing a new Labour Government. Our discussions with Labour regarding the issues that Brexit has caused have been well received, and we are confident that the manifesto will set out a commitment to address the problems.

I will also be attending MaMA Festival in Paris for a panel on ‘Brexit is over, Now what’ as part of Un-Convention and I am looking forward to getting the perspective from the European speakers. This same Un-Convention panel then repeats itself in Manchester at English Folk Expo where I will also attend the European Folk Network Conference.

We are always being asked by government to provide real time case studies of musicians adversely affected by our departure from the EU. This evidence is crucial to supporting our arguments, so please do let me know of your experiences by emailing

Promoting the work of the MU overseas

To round off October I'll be heading to Spain for WOMEX to further the message of Brexit and its impact on musicians in the UK and to promote the MU.

Looking ahead to 2024, Eurosonic in Groningen, Folk Alliance and SXSW in the US and Jazzahead in Germany are all in the planning stages.

At all of these events there remains, thankfully, a strong UK presence of musicians. This is largely made possible by the funding received from the PRS International Showcase Fund (the MU contributes to this fund), work undertaken by devolved Arts Councils and music export organisations such as British Underground.

I make time to speak to both members and non-members about the issues they face and how the MU is there to help and assist. It’s always good to see a non-member join the Union following our chat, or to receive some feedback from members on their experience of being part of the Union.

Brexit stats

There have been various reports recently from the organisations we work with regarding Brexit. UK Music for example released some chilling statistics on the impact of the UK leaving the EU - 82% of the 1,461 responders said that their earnings have decreased. A further 43% said touring the EU nations was no longer viable, and 65% said they are receiving fewer invites to perform in the EU.

UK Music also released their Manifesto for Music, containing recommendations to government as to how to fix the problems. It’s not the first time these recommendations have been made. The message from the music industry has been clear from the start; we need a government who are prepared to take some positive steps with our EU counterparts. I continue to work closely with Tom Kiehl at UK Music and Jon Collins at LIVE on all matters regarding overseas work, including the ever-present US Visa debate.

Additionally the MU, alongside Help Musicians, released the Music Census 2023, making reference to musicians who need to travel for work, and the insecurity leaving the EU has instilled.

I remain on the advisory board of the Independent Commission on UK/EU Relations who are in the process of releasing reports on many sectors of UK life that have been adversely affected by the UK leaving the EU. The manufacturing report has just been released - it’s not just music that is suffering.

Developing our resources

Recently the UK announced it was rejoining the Horizons Europe programme. This will bring a sigh of relief to our research community; it’s heartening to see that there is at least some movement. Clearly rejoining Horizons Europe had some political will behind it to make it happen. There is hope.

On the other hand, it saddens me that I have to keep reporting that Eurostar St Pancras will not, in the foreseeable future, be made a Designated Port. Those musicians travelling with musical instruments containing endangered species are required to have a Musical Instrument Certificate and get it stamped at the border. DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) and Border Force have told us that it’s not possible to make Eurostar St Pancras a Designated Port.

Despite years of representation by the MU, ISM (Independent Society of Musicians) and ABO (Association of British Orchestras) on this matter, the answer is still no. We spoke to Eurostar directly and they are looking into it from their perspective, however as I write there is still no positive news on this.

However, for those members who are scratching their heads over the need for A1 forms when it comes to overseas Social Security and the issues around withholding tax, we have a series of information videos from ‘My Tax Advisor’ via a brand new, member only advice page. With those in place, and a webinar in October on obtaining and using an ATA Carnet, we continue to work to develop our resources.

As always if you need further information or advice, please do contact your regional office or visit our Working Overseas hub below.

Learn more about working abroad

Get support as a musician working overseas

The MU helps musicians with many aspects of working overseas - from everything on touring in Europe, visa issues for working in US, to travelling with musical instruments.

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