Labour Market

Post-Brexit Britain should have the freest possible trade in entertainment


A couple of weeks ago, Paul Simon gave a concert in Hyde Park, the final time he will perform in the UK. He famously came here first in the 1960s and has been back many times since, as part of a constant back-and-forth flow between American and British performers and creatives – musicians, actors dancers, film crews. This is arguably a more significant ‘special relationship’ than many of the things our politicians go on about.

But it is probably not well known that, in addition to any normal visa requirements, a US (or Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South African, Brazilian etc)  performer needs to have a Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – Creative and sporting) visa before he or she can perform. This costs £244, or £854 if you are in a hurry and can’t wait the three weeks or so that it takes to process these things. You need to get a ‘Certificate of Sponsorship’ from a ‘licensed employer’ and you may face a healthcare surcharge. It’s a hassle, basically.   

This has hit the news because the Home Office, in preparing for tighter security after Brexit, has discovered that for many years performers have been able to avoid this charge if they made landfall in Ireland, played a couple of gigs in Dublin, then moved on to the UK.

Things are now going to be toughened up. Apparently Beyonce, for example, travels with an entourage of 250 and should have paid over £160,000 in visa fees. The Home Office needs the money. Kerr-ching.

All very well for the corporate behemoth that is Beyonce Inc, you may say. But what about today’s version of the young Paul Simon, who may simply have  – in the words of a song he famously wrote on Warrington station – ‘a suitcase and guitar in hand’?

Suppose you are travelling to do a stand-up slot at next month’s Edinburgh fringe, for example. Getting a Tier 5 visa is a complicated business and the expense is disproportionate to any likely benefit you’ll get.

Put another way, it’s indirectly a tax on UK consumers of American music, comedy and drama. It is no doubt supported by the Musicians’ Union and Equity.

EU performers are exempt, and thus it’s cheaper to bring over a ballet from Berlin than one from Russia. Economists see this as trade diversion, a common feature of customs unions and free trade areas.

And of course it’s cheaper to have a British actor attempt an excruciating American accent in a West End version of Tennessee Williams – I’ve seen too many of those.

It’s maybe a small thing. But when we eventually redraft our immigration rules, please let’s make it easier for creatives to come to the UK. We should have the freest possible trade in entertainment – just as for other goods and services.

Editorial and Research Fellow

Len Shackleton is an Editorial and Research Fellow at the IEA and Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham. He was previously Dean of the Royal Docks Business School at the University of East London and prior to that was Dean of the Westminster Business School. He has also taught at Queen Mary, University of London and worked as an economist in the Civil Service. His research interests are primarily in the economics of labour markets. He has worked with many think tanks, most closely with the Institute of Economic Affairs, where he is an Economics Fellow. He edits the journal Economic Affairs, which is co-published by the IEA and the University of Buckingham.


3 thoughts on “Post-Brexit Britain should have the freest possible trade in entertainment”

  1. Posted 01/08/2018 at 14:32 | Permalink

    Homeward bound was not written at Warrington railway Station. It was written either at Widnes or Ditton railway station. It was probably the latter but the plaque is at Widnes Station, partly because Ditton Station is closed.

  2. Posted 01/08/2018 at 16:04 | Permalink

    Close but no cigar. It was probably Widnes station where ‘Homeward Bound’ was (at least in part) written.

  3. Posted 02/08/2018 at 12:41 | Permalink

    Close but no cigar. It was probably Widnes station (rather than Warrington) where Homeward Bound was partially written.

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