The stark change to the lives of the UK’s musicians and actors is heartbreaking. Prior to 31 December 2020, lockdown aside, a musician could jump onto Eurostar, pass speedily into France or Belgium and carry their instrument without paperwork, tariffs or red tape to their venue. Maybe for a week, maybe for a whole season. Post-Brexit, only 90 days is permissible.
I had that great experience of travelling in the summer of 2012 with a mixed group of 45 girls, boys and teachers. Using Pulhams Coaches, we went straight to Brussels, found our hostel, had a meal in the Tintin restaurant and practised for the next few days’ concerts. No hassle.
The first concert was in the cathedral, the second in the Royal Park bandstand and the third in a beautiful church in a different sector of the city. It was an experience that I and the pupils will never forget.
The following year, there was a second choir trip to Paris, staying in another very smart hostel. Same easy journey and straight through to our first concert at Notre Dame. The most exciting day was our visit to Disneyland Paris, where the choir sang in the auditorium to an audience of 2000 visitors. It was an unbelievable experience.
The difference between then and now is unimaginable. On 24 December 2020, Boris Johnson turned down the EU standard offer of a visa waver. This has destroyed the ability of UK musicians to tour in Europe. The costs and the paperwork are prohibitive and what used to be simple is now the exact opposite. The extra expense of visas, taxation, transport of instruments, carnets and paperwork makes a huge difference. At a stroke, Johnson has bulldozed the love and life of thousands of musicians and actors, just as he did with Erasmus.
Big names may have the money to pay for all this, but most small choirs, orchestras and bands simply cannot afford the costs and the red tape.
Johnson has recently announced that he is working flat out to improve the situation. We await to see if this is true.