Brexit for Musicians: An Englishman Abroad

While the furore over UK artists working in the European Union continues to simmer and boil, a tricky aspect of working out what’s going on is that it’s almost impossible to find any concrete examples. That’s in large part a result of one crisis providing cover for another: were it not for theatre closures and travel restrictions as a result of the pandemic, there would probably be a lot more British workers trapped in embassies and airports across the continent right now.

I was fortunate, therefore, to have the chance to chat to my colleague Peter Hoare, who in a pioneering move not only has performing work, but has actually made it to Barcelona to start rehearsing the role of Mortimer in Lessons in Love and Violence at the Liceu.

Peter generously took the time to give us an exclusive insight into the paperwork he’s had to complete to get out to Catalonia, and with his kind permission I present it here as a case study. Please note that this is an account of one artist’s experience, and should not be taken as formal advice nor a reliable guide to what anyone else might need. As always, the responsibility for making sure all official requirements are understood and met ultimately rests with the individual fulfilling the contract.

Case study: Peter Hoare

Peter Hoare is an English tenor with a well-established freelance international operatic career stretching back over twenty-five years. In January 2021, he was booked at three weeks’ notice to perform the role of Mortimer in Sir George Benjamin’s opera Lessons in Love and Violence at the Liceu theatre in Barcelona in February and March 2021, replacing a colleague from the USA.

Some background notes on Peter’s recent experiences: a full diary of work for 2020 and 2021 was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic; most cancellations came at short notice and without financial compensation as a result of the broad application, rightly or wrongly, of ‘force majeure’ contract clauses. Peter received no financial support from the UK Government since he was ineligible for any of the support schemes, in particular falling foul of the limitations of the Self Employment Income Support Scheme. Consequently, he was obliged to find alternative work outside of the Performing Arts industry during the pandemic to support his family. He currently has further performing work lined up during 2021, all in the EU, much of it replacing cancelled work in the UK.

Here’s a list of the additional post-Brexit paperwork Peter has had to complete prior to his arrival in Barcelona for the start of rehearsals:

1. Official application form for a work visa – applied for at the Spanish Embassy in London. This required the surrendering of his UK passport for an unspecified period. Cost: £150 plus travel

2. Insurance (NB cost increased because of working during pandemic – see below). Cost: £350

3. UK “resident’s permit” – Peter’s UK passport proved sufficient in this instance, although non-UK citizens would require further proof.

4. Spanish health statement – a lengthy form completed online.

5. “No objection letter” – from the applicant’s accountant, with proof of payment of last year’s taxes.

6. Contract with the theatre.

7. Employer’s invitation from the theatre.

8. Apartment booking.

9. Round trip travel booking.

10. Proof of sufficient financial guarantees – up-to-date original bank statements for the last 3 months certified by bank (online statements not accepted) showing sufficient funds to cover living expenses for the duration of the contract period.

There was also some extra paperwork to do because of the pandemic. Although we’re attempting in this article to focus solely on the post-Brexit aspects of travelling to work, here are the details for reference: proof of permission to travel; a recent negative Covid test (obtained privately at a cost of £99); and valid travel and work insurance – this was an additional cost of £350, since regular insurance policies do not cover travel “in time of plague”. In fact the technical description for this is “Battlefield Insurance”.

The first point to note is that this is now a complex process, and there are potential glitches at every stage. For example, when Peter went to his branch of HSBC to request his “certified bank statements”, he was told this was a service which was discontinued by the bank several years ago. In Peter’s case, he managed to get his application accepted despite not having the required certification, but that’s no guarantee of similar success for other applicants; and an issue with any aspect of the process risks invalidating the whole application.

If those issues prove to cause frequent problems for British artists travelling to work abroad, it risks not only costing those individual artists work, but for the industry overall it may well lead to a reluctance from European theatres to employ British artists, not being sure whether or not they’ll ultimately be able to fulfil the contract.

The process also takes time, in setting up and travelling to an appointment at the Spanish Embassy in London (reportedly the service is also available at offices in Manchester and Edinburgh), applying for and gathering all the necessary information and evidence, and crucially, waiting for the applicant’s passport to be returned. This causes particular problems in the course of a busy career, where several international contracts may be in the pipeline at any given moment. Only being able to process one of them at a time is a major hindrance to pursuing that career, even in the absence of any glitches. The UK’s tightening over recent years of the rules regarding issuing second passports to British citizens working internationally makes this even more challenging. For Peter, the process took at least a couple of weeks, and when international travel returns to nearer its normal levels, that will surely increase. Three weeks’ notice is probably the minimum via conventional means, which raises serious questions over the viability of short notice “jump-in” contracts, for example, for British singers.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the fact that Peter now has a valid work visa for Spain will be of no use to him when it comes to his forthcoming contracts in Germany and France – as a “third country” citizen, he’ll be back to square one with the processes there, which are different for each individual EU member state.

For comparison, pre-Brexit, the only paperwork necessary would have been a valid passport for establishing British citizenship, and an A1 form for avoiding having to make social security payments twice. Both of these are still necessary post-Brexit, in addition to the new requirements listed above.

As an established and successful international artist, Peter naturally has had access to support in this process, from a knowledgable agent, a reliable accountant, experienced colleagues and so on, and a certain amount of financial resources too; and as a resident of the home counties, the Spanish Embassy is a short trip from home. For younger artists just starting out on a career, none of these would necessarily be the case, and consequently as with so many aspects of Brexit, it hits the youngest harder than anyone else.

To all of the above, the cynical among you might think, so what? Why can’t British artists just stay at home and work in the UK, sharing their gifts with their native audiences rather than hawking them around the globe?

Well, for one thing, British artists working abroad is a good thing for the British economy. In Peter’s case, his work in the UK was cancelled, and so if he weren’t working abroad, he wouldn’t be working at all. But even without the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, there are more British singers than there is work at home, and short of a miraculous change of heart when it comes to British investment in the arts, that’s unlikely to change any time soon. We’re a net exporter of talent, and that brings money into the UK economy in terms of tax and expenditure at home, not to mention maintaining and developing our influence on the world stage – “Global Britain”, as the Government is fond of labelling it.

Furthermore, for British singers, easy access to a wider global market has allowed them to specialise their careers to a far greater extent than had they remained working exclusively in the UK. Peter’s reputation as a specialist in contemporary English language opera no doubt gave him a significant edge when it came to securing the role of Mortimer in the original production, and consequently this latest contract too. Likewise, Britain’s current crop of top-level Wagnerian singers could surely never have reached their level of expertise solely working in the UK, where performances of their niche repertoire are few and far between – think of Catherine Foster, James Rutherford, Iain Paterson, to name but three singers who are heard far more often on European stages than at home. Not that they’re not adept at other repertoire too; but the ability to travel far and wide has allowed them to focus on their strongest suits, and consequently Britain’s global reputation for producing high quality singing to continue to flourish.

So what can be done to help? The complexity of the process being the very issue here, simple solutions are not readily apparent. Even were it possible to resurrect the Brexit negotiating process, for instance, it remains unclear that either of the reported proposals would solve any or all of these problems at a stroke. But streamlining any part of this process would be a step in the right direction – every barnacle you remove from a ship’s hull will help it glide through the water more swiftly.

For starters, the UK Government could very easily review its reluctance to allow second passports to be issued to frequent travellers. At the moment the system doesn’t allow for an anticipated future need as grounds for issuing an additional passport; with most artists’ careers still in lockdown, revising that approach could help them get back up and running as soon as the pandemic allows. Passport fees being what they are, this would instantly raise more revenue for the Treasury, it’s a move which can be made unilaterally, and there’s no obvious downside, assuming that any Home Office security concerns can be assuaged. The prospect of British citizens having their only passport at the mercy of foreign visa processes for weeks and months every year is hardly consistent with the concept of “Taking Back Control”. It should be a no-brainer.

As we move forward, the disproportionate impact of every aspect of Brexit on the younger generation surely has to be addressed too. Support, advice and access to finance are all career-boosters which the Government could readily provide. It was good to see the Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland proposing the creation of a new Erasmus-style programme for his students, and if we’re being asked to accept Brexit as a grown-up, positive concept, then at the very least every step we take should be towards the increase of opportunities for young British citizens to train and work worldwide.

Ultimately, you have to take your hat off to Peter and his colleagues for having stridden forth manfully toward this newly unknown region, like a latter day Neil Armstrong or Captain Scott (hopefully with results more along the lines of the former). Not only will his work at the Liceu further his career and support his family, but even more importantly it will allow audiences in Barcelona to experience a world-class contemporary British opera, showcasing the very best of British culture on an international stage.

If the Government is truly serious about the idea of “Global Britain”, it needs to do everything in its power to support those who are out there right now building it.

Disclaimer: this article is intended as an anecdotal account and should not be relied upon wholly or in part as a guide to any application process. The responsibility for understanding and fulfilling any contractual and/or official requirements remains solely and entirely that of the contracted artist.

My thanks go to Peter Hoare. All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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About Paul Carey Jones

All content Copyright © Paul Carey Jones 2010-2023. Paul Carey Jones is a Welsh-Irish opera singer. His first book, based on his hit 'Coronaclassical' blog series, is now on sale worldwide: - You can contact him via comments here or at:
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5 Responses to Brexit for Musicians: An Englishman Abroad

  1. Rex Oper says:

    A small observation, Peter was replacing an American colleague which implies that hiring theatre was willing to undergo a visa/ work permit process on their end to fill the role. This is unlikely to be true for every available role in the EU. For those which it is true for, British singers will be competing against every other singer WW.

    • Yes, that’s a fair point – any European house would view that realistically when it comes to programming English language opera. Any shorter notice than this and they might well have looked more closely at EU options – Irish singers are currently in a highly desirable position, for example.

  2. S A says:

    The Spanish health statement – a lengthy form completed online is something that is just needed to enter the country filled in 48 hours before you depart ie. not required for the actual visa process. Everything is so up in the air and we are all being told different things, four people were turned away at the airport last week even though they had permission from the spanish foreign secretary because the AIRLINE said they couldn’t board. It’s getting ridiculous, how are we meant to work!

  3. Pingback: Brexit for Musicians: The Norway Option | Ranitidine & Tonic

  4. Pingback: Le Brexit : un casse-tête pour les artistes britanniques

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