'It is a strategically important industry': Michael Dugher on what the biz needs from Brexit

'It is a strategically important industry': Michael Dugher on what the biz needs from Brexit

Since his appointment to head up UK Music 18 months ago, CEO Michael Dugher has been working to get government to recognise the needs of the music industry when it comes to Brexit. Last week the former Labour MP met with Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright to make the arguments for the biz as a special case for visa arrangements applying to touring artists. 

In the latest issue of Music Week, key industry figures look at the issues amid the current political uncertainty. If a transition deal is agreed, then the status quo is likely to be maintained until the end of 2020. But if the uncertainty remains and there’s the potential for a no-deal Brexit, it will focus minds across the music business on the need for contingency planning ahead of the UK’s EU exit on March 29. Here, Dugher talks Music Week through the big issues of Brexit...

When you’re talking to the government, are you discussing the arrangements beyond 2020 after any transition deal?

“It’s about both. We wrote to Theresa May, and it’s a point that we made to Jeremy Wright as well. I think there is anxiety about the apparent lack of progress on our most important issues relating to Brexit. With freedom of movement, live music contributes about £1 billion to the economy itself. The ability for British artists to be able to tour across Europe without cost and bureaucracy is an absolutely essential requirement. This is how artists are building an audience, and most of them are doing it on tiny margins. There is a real risk that it will make touring simply not viable for too many artists unless we get the visa waiver arrangements that we are seeking post-Brexit.”

So if this transition deal is eventually approved by Parliament the music industry will have a two-year breathing space...

“We’ll be under transitional arrangements, but our problem is once Brexit, under the current deal, ends freedom of movement. In terms of how the government intends to manage that, firstly there is going to be an immigration white paper, which was supposed to have been published before the meaningful vote [scheduled for December 11 but later postponed] on Brexit. We are disappointed that it hasn’t been published, because that is quite a key component about what will happen to us post-Brexit. Clearly, the government's own immigration policy, how they choose to treat European workers post-Brexit, will have a knock-on effect in terms of the UK's ability to negotiate reciprocal arrangements with members of the EU. It is important that we get that right and at the moment we’ve got no clarity whatsoever.

“The other issue is that we work very closely with the Migration Advisory Committee of the Home Office that published their report recently about what might happen with the end of Freedom of Movement, and what arrangements might need to be put in place. We were disappointed that our sector was conspicuous by its absence with no reference to our issues. Interestingly, they did talk about the strategic importance to the UK of agriculture and the need to make sure that there are special arrangements in place for seasonal workers. I would argue that the music industry is a strategically important industry for the UK, and we have our own special requirements which need to be recognised by government equally post-Brexit.”

There is anxiety about the apparent lack of progress on our most important issues relating to Brexit

Michael Dugher

What other impact could it have if there is no post-Brexit arrangement for visa waivers?

“It’s a two-way process and this isn’t just about the live sector. This is also about us being able to get European artists or musicians that are part of bands being able to come in and play arenas and grassroots music venues and the music festival circuit. It’s also about bringing session musicians to play in our studios. So it’s obviously absolutely critical in terms of live music but the impact will be felt more broadly than that.”

In terms of the Copyright Directive, are you confident that the UK will honour any agreement made in Europe if it goes through?

“The government has said that current protections that we enjoy under EU law will be seamlessly transposed into UK statute. Now, I think we need to watch this like a hawk because we don’t want anything being lost in translation, and if anything we want to see stronger protections for rights holders and creators, hence the battle with Google/Youtube at the moment. We don’t want the likes of Google/Youtube seeing this as an opportunity to potentially weaken copyright protection.”

For the sake of certainty for the industry, would you like to see the government’s transition deal go through?

“None of us have the faintest idea of what is going to happen. Personally, I would rather see a longer transition period if it means we get a better deal at the end of it. We have absolutely no idea whether this deal will get through Parliament. Obviously the conservatives can’t even guarantee their own MPs supporting this deal, a large number have said they’re against it. So it looks like a minority position, which again casts the shadow of uncertainty over this whole area even further. Like any British industry, we are profoundly concerned about the effect this uncertainty is having in terms of the ability for our industry to plan and invest.”

Was Jeremy Wright receptive to your arguments?

“He was very receptive. In fairness to the DCMS, I think Jeremy, in common with all of his recent predecessors, completely gets this, and our issues in relation to the potential impact of Brexit. I know DCMS have been making representations very strongly to the Home Office ahead of the immigration white paper and obviously to our negotiators on Brexit. The issue for us is we’ve just not seen any evidence at the moment that we’re any closer to the kind of arrangements we need.”

Does there need to be contingency planning in case of a no-deal Brexit?

“Yes, although there is still quite a bit of time and there is still a lot to play for. At the moment it’s about making sure we’re getting our message over loud and clear to the government.”

To read the full Music Week Brexit report pick up the latest issue. To subscribe and never miss a big industry story click here.

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