Co-founder and Executive Chairman of HarrisonParrott Ltd, a global, innovative music and arts management agency, Jasper Parrott, discusses Brexit and the lasting damage to our cultural prospects
It is easy to find faults and enduring weaknesses in the EU as it has evolved and grown over recent decades, but any honest evaluation would compare achievements of its short life with the chaotic and often bloody histories of earlier empires, nation states or political agglomeration. The indisputable truth is that in no equivalent period in history have so many hundreds of millions been able to come together to enjoy steadily increasing prosperity, peace and security, enabling nearly three generations to bring up and educate their children to become citizens living under the protection of the law in circumstances where the individual is respected as the fundamental values of civilised societies.
Maybe the most valuable achievement of the EU is that it has been at the heart of an international movement that has shared in the benefits flowing from the protection and enrichment of an enduring diversity of languages, cultures and aspirations.
The UK itself has benefitted greatly: from a pre-EU status as a sclerotic and declining power less and less respected and trusted in the wider world, the UK has modernised and grown in diversity, influence and prosperity as a major partner in the European project through which – and without losing our historical particularity – we have been able to develop a society for the twenty-first century where the arts, sciences, education, creativity and innovation have been able to thrive as a laboratory for artistic and cultural pluralisms admired, emulated and envied throughout the world. Brexit will turn the clock back and greatly diminish our influence as a world class power and player of influence.
In the field of music and arts management, Harrison Parrott, the company I founded nearly 50 years ago, is probably the most diverse and international companies in our field. This is reflected not only in our staff among whom 15 different mother tongues are spoken with English remaining our lingua franca, but also in our clients who now extend to three generations of artists from all over the world and for whom the criterion selection is talent and not origin. This summer, 15 of our artists performed at the BBC Proms, including Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo who conducted this most tribal of British institutions, The Last Night of the Proms, for the third time – and who greeted tens of millions of music lovers around the world in perfect English but speaking as a true citizen of the world.
But the Proms, for all their vitality and diversity, make up only a short season in HarrisonParrott’s annual programme where we remain active not only in every country of Europe but also around the globe, always seeking out new possibilities and territories. We helped the Boston Symphony Orchestra return to China in 2014 for the first time since 1979 and to Japan for the first time in 15 years. We took the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra tour to Turkey as part of the celebrations for Netherlands-Turkey year, marking 400 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. We brought the Qatar Philharmonic and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra to the 2014 BBC Proms. We managed the Globe Theatre’s first tours to China in 2014 and the Vienna Philharmonic’s first visit to Colombia in 2016. The Trondheim Soloists recently became the first Norwegian ensemble to perform in China since the two countries normalised their diplomatic relations; and we were proud to be involved in the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra visit to Cuba in 2015, the first performance of a US orchestra since President Barack Obama took steps to repair relations between the countries in December 2014.
And the fact that we can do so is because our reach and range and the legal and financial infrastructure within which we can work is enormously strengthened by our membership of the EU, where 45 per cent of our income comes from.
By now it is already beginning to become clear how heavy the price will be for most of our flagship industries and businesses including those accustomed to power and influence at home and abroad. How much greater will the damage be to our creative and cultural industries that contribute £87 billion in gross value added per year, yet have never enjoyed much in the way of recognition and even less in terms of financial support from successive British governments!
the costly and endlessly bureaucratic visa and permit procedure currently imposed on non-EU nationals will be very damaging for the performing arts and will significantly reduce the plurality of exchange and increase the costs for both UK and EU institutions looking to perform abroad.
I know this to be true because I myself was actively engaged with and frustrated by the quotas, restrictions and red tape which – intentionally – slowed everything down in the years before the freedom of movement was finally established throughout the EU and other associated countries.
More specifically, our visa application system is not geared up to deal with the ever-changing nature of what our artists do. Even now, it is rare for non-EU artists to meet requirements for multiple entry visas, which means most such nationals must apply for two, three and up to five visas per year to perform in the UK.
To continue to showcase creative talent from abroad and allow EU institutions to keep investing here, the UK should remain part of the EU single market and customs union after Brexit, and allow visiting artists from EU countries to enjoy freedom of movement in the UK. In addition, British orchestras, ballet and dance companies, theatres and bands should also be able to continue to tour within Europe without additional costs and bureaucracy. HarrisonParrott has been lobbying intensively since the referendum to inform and influence the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, MPs and other government departments of the dangers ahead and to ensure that businesses like ours can continue to hire EU nationals without increased red tape, and that the rights to work and remain here of those we currently employ are, and will be, protected.
Music, the arts and all forms of creative culture have long demonstrated how they can bring us all closer together in a mutually uplifting and non-discriminatory way. The challenge of empowering artists and institutions to reach their full potential in the global marketplace and to help to create good societies both at home and abroad has never been more important. For our part, we want to continue to develop a diverse and inspiring programme of cultural activities that will increase understanding, aspirational skills, and mutual respect and empathy among people of all ages and backgrounds, delivered by a multinational team who feel secure and valued.