UK orchestras need government assurances over Brexit, MPs warn

British orchestras need assurances from government they can easily access the European market – their most important overseas territory – following Brexit, MPs have urged.

‘They are particularly worried about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, which could put the survival of some well-known British orchestras at risk,’ Stephen Timms MP said at a recent parliamentary debate.

‘British orchestras are a global success story. They tour around the world, forge new markets in emerging economies and contribute to UK soft power and cultural exchange, but Europe is their most important marketplace,’ he continued.

Timms tabled the debate late last year, which was attended by Margot James, the minister for digital and the creative industries, former culture secretary Ed Vaizey MP, John Howell MP and Sir Christopher Chope.

Vaizey, who also highlighted the soft power of British orchestras, said: ‘We know that some of our orchestras have already lost bookings in the EU because of uncertainty about Brexit. It is not clear what future work permits might look like or what impact future customs arrangements might have on the movement of instruments between borders.

He continued: ‘We do not know how delays at the borders might impact on touring or what additional costs might come about from the loss of access to the European health insurance card. A whole host of uncertainties surrounding the physical aspect of touring in the European Union after Brexit need to be addressed.’

Public funding for British orchestras has fallen sharply since 2010, while there has been a cut of up to 30 percent from Arts Council England. However, since 2016, the orchestra tax relief has helped shore up the sector, as has EU funding.

Timms expressed concerns current uncertainties surrounding financial aid, saying: ‘At the moment we do not know whether British organisations will continue to be eligible for funding through Creative Europe or the other EU programmes, so UK government investment is absolutely vital to orchestras, concert halls, festivals and promoters.

Margot James responded: ‘The government take extremely seriously our responsibility to champion and support our world-leading orchestras, which connect us to more than 400 years of creativity from across the world – particularly within Europe.

‘Some leading classical musicians have expressed concerns about the future as we leave the European Union… I assure them that their voices are being heard. My department is working hard to ensure that departments across Whitehall understand what our orchestras need from our future relationship with the EU, and what they need in terms of contingency planning in the ?unlikely case that we leave the EU without a deal. In either case, we are confident that the creativity and resilience of our orchestras will continue and thrive.’

The debate followed a letter from the Association of British Orchestras, UK Theatre and One Dance UK to the minister with responsibility for the arts, Michael Ellis MP, which urged him to work with the Home Office to secure an exemption for highly skilled performing arts workers who earn below the £30,000 threshold in the proposed Brexit system, and to clarify the position of freelance musicians.

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