What has Roger Daltrey said about Brexit? The Who frontman’s controversial comments explained

Roger Daltrey famously told a reporter that Brexit had nothing to do with "rock business", then signed a petition for musicians to get visa-free access to the EU.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Roger Daltrey is one of the country’s most famous Brexiteers, despite the impact that leaving the EU has had on music.

He famously lost his rag at a reporter, saying “what's it got to do with the rock business?” when asked about Brexit. The iconic frontman has just stepped down as curator of the Teenage Cancer Trust gigs at the Royal Albert Hall, writing in the Times: “I have to be realistic. I’m on my way out.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

However, has he changed his mind about Brexit? Here’s everything you need to know.

What has Roger Daltrey said about Brexit?

‘60s wouldn’t have happened if Britain was in EU’

Daltrey outlined his support for Brexit on 22 June 2016, the day before the EU referendum. Writing in the Mirror, he said: “My main reasons are, the democratic deficit for nation states in the way the European Council is run.

“I also believe national courts should hold precedence over any EU court. I do not want to be dragged into the kind of Federal State that this present EU is pushing for.”

He said he thought Britain’s greatest period was the 60s, before it joined the Common Market (the precursor to the European Union). “The most exciting time ever - Britain was Swinging. Films, Theatre, Fashion, Art and Music. We were the World leaders.

The Who frontman Roger Daltrey. Credit: Ian West/PA WireThe Who frontman Roger Daltrey. Credit: Ian West/PA Wire
The Who frontman Roger Daltrey. Credit: Ian West/PA Wire
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“You had Harold Pinter, The Beatles, John Osborne, Mary Quant, The Stones, Queen... and The Who. This was all before we joined the EU. We were just Kids but we were filling stadiums all round the World.

“Britain was the centre of the World. You got that because Britain was doing its own thing. It was independent. Not sure we'll ever get that against when we're ruled by bureaucrats in the European Union.”

‘What’s Brexit got to do with rock business?’

In 2019, Daltrey was asked if Brexit has been bad for rock music by a Sky reporter. He snapped back: “No. What's it got to do with the rock business? How are you going to tour in Europe? Oh dear. As if we didn't tour Europe before the f***ing EU. Oh give it up!”

He then described the EU as a “f***ing mafia”. Daltrey said: “If you want to be signed up to be ruled by a f***ing mafia, you do it. Like being governed by Fifa.”

Who singer Roger Daltrey.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)Who singer Roger Daltrey.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
Who singer Roger Daltrey. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Daltrey then signed a letter calling for visa-free access for touring musicians, which led him to be accused of hypocrisy. However he still insisted he was in favour of Brexit.

In a statement, he said: “I have not changed my opinion on the EU. I'm glad to be free of Brussels, not Europe. I would have preferred reform, which was asked for by us before the referendum and was turned down by the then president of the EU.

"I do think our government should have made the easing of restrictions for musicians and actors a higher priority. Every tour, individual actors and musicians should be treated as any other 'Goods' at the point of entry to the EU with one set of paperwork. Switzerland has borders with five EU countries, and trade is electronically frictionless. Why not us?"

‘I’m disappointed we haven’t made the most of Brexit’

Despite still campaigning for greater access for musicians, in an interview in 2022 Daltrey said he still supported Brexit. “I’m disappointed we haven’t made the most of it – I’m really disappointed that we haven’t burned an awful lot of useless regulation,” Daltrey told the Independent.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I just put in planning permission for a building on the farm and just to get the planning in its cost me something like £40,000. It’s f***ing ridiculous. Who the bloody hell’s got that?” The rockstar insisted this was because of an EU regulation, despite being told otherwise.

“Would I vote to go back in it? No,” he said. “Am I sorry we came out of it? No… it’s a cartel, mate, it’s like being governed by Fifa.”

What impact has Brexit had on the UK music industry?

NationalWorld has reported about the impact that Brexit has had on musicians and artists. Bigger acts like the Who tend to have all their admin arranged for them, however it has caused huge problems for smaller bands and session musicians. 

The Face the Music campaign, by the European Movement UK, is calling on Rishi Sunak to negotiate visa-free travel for UK artists within the European Union, and vice-versa. A report by the Independent Society of Musicians found almost half of UK artists say they have had less work in Europe since Brexit, and more than a quarter have had no work at all. 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Gus Unger-Hamilton, keyboardist in the No1 band Alt-J, told NationalWorld: “It doesn’t feel like it’s [Brexit] leading to the UK making the best of its amazing cultural assets. We’re a pretty small country but one thing we do have that people seem to want around the world is our culture, and music is a huge part of that.

“It seems like the government doesn’t seem bothered about it, or they think it’s going to sustain itself without any help, despite things getting harder and harder. It’s all very well and important to focus on maths and science in schools, but one of things the UK punches well above its weight in is in culture. Some of the biggest pop stars in the world are British, and that is something that doesn’t just happen by accident. It’s going to shrivel and eventually die if this government doesn’t eventually give musicians a bit of help.”

The European Movement UK says that Brexit has caused a talent drain on British music, from up-and-coming stars leaving Britain to live in Europe, to jobbing musicians who face being shut out of freelance work because they no longer hold an EU passport. It’s calling on the government to negotiate a bilateral agreement, which guarantees visa-free travel for UK artists in the EU and vice versa. The UK previously rejected a proposal from Brussels to exempt performers from the 90-day rules.

James Henshaw, a rising star among conductors on the UK classical music scene, was forced to move from London to Germany in 2020 over Brexit. “I was forced to choose between my job and my country,” he said. “I knew that if I wanted to continue working, I couldn’t stay in the UK. I felt shut out. About 15% of my work before Brexit was in the UK, and the rest was from around the world – a lot from the EU. But after 2020, I could see that EU work drying up. So I had to move. I had to, to keep working.” 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.