On Brexit and the Arts

I know. I know. You’ve had it with the constant posts about the imminent referendum on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the EU. I have too, not least because most of the people I know are pro-Remain (as I am) so I get this weird frustration from reading and hearing lots of great pro-EU arguments and having no-one to shout them at because everyone already agrees with me.

But I learnt about the dangers of the social media echo chamber in the last general election – when Facebook was plastered with posts and videos denouncing the Tories and showing their support for Labour, the Greens, even the Lib Dems, fallen from grace as they are. It didn’t seem even vaguely plausible that the Conservatives could push for another coalition, let alone win an outright majority. And then the Conservatives won an outright majority.

Issues with our governmental and electoral systems aside (and believe me, there are plenty), what that experience taught me was how misleading it can be to make assumptions of how people will vote and think solely from the people you surround yourself with – a glaringly obvious revelation, I’m sure, but one that I’ve taken to heart. So here I am, penning a short post about Brexit in the hopes that it might reach the eyes of even one person on the fence or voting Out.

The perils of leaving the EU have been covered in great detail already, from the overwhelming support from hard-right leaning politicians such as UKIP’s Nigel Farage and France’s Marine Le Pen, to the difficulties and consequences of adopting the Swiss or Norwegian models for post-EU trade and immigration policies. So I’ll leave most of that alone. I speak from the position of a musician here (in case that wasn’t clear, in which case you probably came to wrong website, sorry) – and leaving the EU would be colossally bad for the arts.

One big reason, which several people have touched upon already (including my good friend Imogen Hancock in this lovely piece about the referendum), a large number of musicians in Britain come here from Europe. Some of the best musicians I’ve come across have come to the UK and made some brilliant music with friends and colleagues they met here. The fantastic More Ice and Honey was comprised, at its conception, of musos from France, Russia, Finland, Belgium, the Czech Republic and the UK itself. If you think a more isolationist, post-EU Britain is going to make it easier for European musicians and artists to travel here and interact and work with other like-minded people, you’re being naïve.

Furthermore, as the MU points out, it goes both ways – British musicians tour work abroad (an essential element of many musicians’ careers), and the EU’s open borders and visa-less travel have streamlined that significantly, not to mention the utility of the European Health Insurance Card, which guarantees medical assistance when travelling – over which currently hangs a big post-Brexit question mark. On top of that, health and safety and workers’ rights legislation from the EU has made musicians’ and artists’ lives significantly better, including copyright law that protects the intellectual property of artists.

And if you think that a Britain with more ‘sovereignty’ and under the benevolent eye of a Conservative government will protect the arts more than the EU has…well.

We have an education secretary who, depending on the time of day, either thinks that pupils with a grounding in the arts are ‘held back’ later in life or condescendingly purrs that the arts are crucial to an understanding of ‘Britishness’ despite (a) what the hell does that even mean, and (b) a categorical decline in arts uptake in schools.

We have a government handing down so many cuts to local council funding (including the arts) that it can’t even keep track of them and seems genuinely confused when they have consequences.

We have arts projects that rely on funding and grants from the EU – and I would be genuinely confused if we continued to receive that from outside the European Union.

Anyway. I’m probably rambling on a bit, so I’ll leave you with this Guardian article featuring several much more well-informed people chatting about the impact of Brexit on the arts. We’re a global society now, and we should be embracing that, not lusting after a bygone and worryingly imperialistic age.

The Leave and Remain camps alike have polluted this debate with misinformation and smokescreens, yes. Money goes in, money comes out. There are benefits, there are costs. The EU is a bureaucratic behemoth with plenty of its own problems, and there are few people denying that.  But voting to leave is like getting a sub-par meal at a restaurant and deciding to starve yourself to death in protest.

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