Britain has officially begun the process of exiting the European Union (EU), ushering in a new period of upheaval and uncertainty throughout Europe that carries potentially huge ramifications for the music business.
On Wednesday 29 March, Britain's EU ambassador handed a letter from Prime Minister Theresa May to the European Council's president Donald Tusk that formally triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – a piece of legislation that gives the U.K. two years to negotiate its exit from the EU, unless all parties agree to extend the deadline.
Speaking to MPs in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister called it a "historic moment from which there can be no turning back." In a press conference in Brussels, a solemn Tusk said there was "no reason to pretend that this was a happy day" and added that "we already miss you."
The triggering of Article 50 follows last summer’s tightly fought referendum, which saw 52 percent of the U.K. population vote to leave the EU – or Brexit as it was more commonly known - makes Britain the first and only country to leave the European Union since its formation in 1993. The vote also led to the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron and sent the value of the pound into a free fall.
What happens now that Article 50 has been triggered is unprecedented, with tough negotiations set to take place over immigration, border access and trade relations, including a comparable equivalent to the single market, which allows the free movement of goods and people around the 28 EU member states, including France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Sweden.
"The process is likely to be fraught with uncertainty, in particular for the live music business,” Paul Reed, general manager of the Association of Independent Festivals, tells Billboard. “Some of the key questions are: Will it now become more complicated for musicians and crews to work across borders? What will the impact be on touring musicians, especially emerging artists in terms of visas and other issues? Will the framework for success become generally less stable? How will the currency situation play out in terms of continuing to attract international talent to the U.K.?”
“More questions than answers remain, but we should take comfort in the fact that the U.K. music industry continues to produce superstar acts,” says Reed, noting that the “time to lament Brexit has clearly passed and the countdown has now started. Going forward, it’s vital that the industry is involved in informing Government approaches and forging practical relationships between the sector, the U.K. and the EU.”
Colin Schaverien of London-based Prolifica Management, which represents Two Door Cinema Club, Jamie N Commons and You Me At Six, echoes the concerns of many in the live industry and fears that Brexit will mean “increased border controls, currency fluctuation and/or devaluation alongside other commercial restrictions [that] will impact first and foremost on new bands taking trying to break into Europe.” He tells Billboard that it’s “hard to think of any positives that will come out of us isolating this island any further.”
Other music industry representatives and stakeholders struck a similar note of apprehension in light of today’s historic actions.
“Navigating towards our EU exit in April 2019 will be hard and the government must use its strongest hand to steer,” warned UK Music chief executive Jo Dipple in a statement that highlighted the record-breaking global success of home grown artists like Ed Sheeran and Adele and urged Ministers “to listen to the creative sector when it talks of the opportunities and challenges ahead.”
“Leaving the EU can’t make our music any less good. It might, though, make the framework for its success a lot stronger,” said Dipple, citing the importance of strengthening copyright laws and ensuring ease of movement for musicians and crews when touring Europe. “Getting the post EU-framework right for music means more jobs, more young people in apprenticeships, bigger export strength, more diplomatic power and more tax revenue flowing in from every city, nation and region. Getting it wrong probably means a return to punk rock,” she surmised.
Gadi Oron, CEO of CISAC, the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers, also spoke of the “giant role” that U.K. authors and songwriters have long had on the world stage and said, “despite all the uncertainties brought by Brexit, they are going to remain well protected by a strong global network of music collection bodies with reciprocal deals ensuring their royalties will get paid across national borders.”
“What is more concerning is the uncertainty Brexit might bring to the copyright landscape, and in particular how it may affect the balance of arguments in the crucial Transfer of Value discussions that are now going on in Europe,” Oron tells Billboard, noting that songwriters, authors and composers will need to “step up their efforts to make sure copyright stays top of the agenda.”
“The triggering of Article 50 today is an important moment for the U.K.” reads a joint statement from Sir John Sorrell and John Kampfner, respective chair and chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation.
“When we consulted Federation members in the run up to the EU referendum, 96 per cent were in favour of remaining. But the task for us now is to ensure our brilliant sector can continue to shine,” continues the statement, saying that it will work with government to help secure the status of EU citizens in the U.K. and devise an “immigration blueprint for ensuring access to talent from around the world.”