MEP Julie Ward: “The Who’s frontman is wrong, Brexit WILL affect British music”

It's no longer their generation, says the Member of the European Parliament for North West England. Julie Ward shares her viewpoint with NME

“The ’60s were filled with music that defined political movements – in many cases responding to the growing cultural and generational divide between the young and the old.

Today, Brexit is driving a wedge between generations once again.

This week when The Who frontman, Roger Daltrey was asked about Brexit, he angrily rebuked, “As if we didn’t tour Europe before the f****** EU”.

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The Who are part of the UK’s cultural and musical fabric, selling over 100m records worldwide and able to put on some of the largest live shows across the world. Despite what Daltrey says, Brexit will impact bands in the form of additional visas and carnets that will fall heavily on touring musicians and technical staff. Perhaps a mega-band like The Who can absorb the additional costs, but it is the up and coming younger artists and the smaller to medium sized venues that will suffer the most from Brexit.

As a Labour MEP and a member of the Culture Committee in the European Parliament, I know just how important music is as a cross-cutting issue in respect of economic and social well-being, not to mention the role of music in cultural diplomacy as an effective bridge-builder in foreign affairs.

The UK’s music industry contributes some £4.4 billion a year to the UK economy, with our creative and cultural industries valued at £101.5 billion a year to the UK economy. A 2018 ISM report shows that they are worth more than the aerospace, life sciences, automotive and oil and gas industries, combined.

It is the up and coming younger artists and the smaller to medium sized venues that will suffer the most from Brexit
– Julie Ward

Eighty percent of the UK’s economy is based on services and the percentage in the music industry is the same. The Government currently plans to leave the Customs Union as well as reduce access to the single market significantly. The ability to travel and work freely and easily in Europe is key to musicians who tour regularly, including musicians from outside the EU who use the UK as their touring base; by ending freedom of movement touring musicians (along with their technicians, roadies, and fan-base) will be hit with huge barriers undoubtedly endangering the live music sector.

The ability for us to bring talent here to the UK is also at serious risk. The Home Office have proposed new immigration rules which stipulate that persons will have to earn over £30,000 a year to be allowed entry into the UK post-Brexit with the correct visa. As any musician or live performer will know only too well, salary levels are almost never commensurate with talent. The UK has been a breeding ground for many bands who go onto achieve global success following their early work here in the UK, for example: The Strokes.

Being part of the EU also allows us to ensure the same legal protections across the 28 EU member states, and currently big changes are being drawn up to protect musicians and their artistic product. The European Parliament is due to vote on the Copyright Directive very shortly which will hopefully give further protection to IP and copyright, the backbone of the industry, in the online realm. Currently, one million streams on YouTube generates as little as £540 for artists despite £2.33 billion of YouTube’s revenue being generated by music in 2017. The EU Copyright Directive seeks to ensure that YouTube and other hosting service providers will become more like a streaming service, rewarding artists for their contribution to the website.

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But we must also see Brexit within the context of the current UK domestic policy landscape. The Department for Culture Media and Sport Select Committee published a report in March 2019 outlining their severe concerns about how poor government policy is damaging the live music environment.

I agree with their recommendations to monitor ticket resale sites and use robust enforcement of consumer protection laws to ensure the market remains healthy and accessible to fans. Small venues need more appropriate business rates, funding for grassroots music projects and protection within local planning frameworks to survive. But perhaps most importantly, the report touches on the lack of investment in new talent and the retrograde education polices this government has imposed which has led to a sharp decline in pupils learning instruments or studying music in schools.

However you personally voted, we must all remember that young people voted overwhelming to remain in the EU: 70 percent of 18-24 year-olds supported retaining our membership of the EU and since the referendum there are an estimated 2 million new young people who can now vote, with over three quarters against Brexit.

The Who once defined an era of youthful defiance and progressive change in the Sixties, summed up and immortalised with the line, “This is my generation, baby”.

Well, the times have changed and we can no longer try and dig what they say.”

MEP Julie Ward

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