A statement on Brexit by Flare Festival.
In 2015 the Flare International Festival of New Theatre invited 22 theatre groups to perform in Manchester, 9 from the UK, 12 from the EU and 1 from outside the EU.
All the groups from EU countries duly booked their flights and packed their bags.
The group from outside of the EU, from Georgia, started the protracted process of applying for visas from the UK Visas and Immigration. They paid large, non-returnable, ‘visa fees’. They presented letters of invitation, they applied on-line and presented themselves in person. And they were turned down. Apparently the group did not have sufficient salaries to prove they ‘were genuine visitors to the UK’.
Flare Festival petitioned the British Embassy in Tblisi, the UK Minister for Immigration, and Theresa May, the then Home Secretary. The local (Labour) MP in Manchester took up the case. 1685 people signed a petition calling on Theresa May to grant visas to the group. Letters of support were collected from Arts Council England, the Georgian government, and many more UK and Georgian based arts organisations and individuals. But to no avail. They couldn’t be trusted - they weren’t allowed in.
Of course, none of this applied to those based in the EU, who just got on a plane.
The UK government’s decision to call a referendum on EU membership, and the resulting vote to leave, means that Flare Festival now faces the prospect of many more impenetrable borders. Theatre audiences in this country will be denied access to the invaluable cultural influences life in the EU has allowed us to take for granted. In all likelihood, New international theatre makers will no longer be able to come together here in the UK.
Of course no supporter of 'Brexit' would say that leaving the EU would prevent artists performing at an international theatre festival. There will be a ‘points system’, they say. It will all be very fair and sensible, they say.
Well on the evidence of Flare 2015, the EU ‘Brexit’ vote will leave international arts events like the Flare Festival at the mercy of the UK visa authorities. Flare will continue to invite performance groups from round the world. It will continue its dedication to bringing the international community of new theatre artists together, here in Manchester. Whether or not they will be allowed to come, we shall have to wait and see.