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Chief Brexit negotiator finally speaks to culture select committee about new bureaucratic barriers for touring artists, reassures no one

By | Published on Wednesday 30 June 2021

David Frost

The man who negotiated the UK’s new trade deal with the European Union did little – aka nothing – to alleviate concerns in the music community yesterday regarding the post-Brexit bureaucratic barriers that British performers now face when touring across Europe.

True, David Frost did actually show up this time to discuss those concerns with Parliament’s culture select committee – which was an improvement on last time – but only to formally pass the buck on to other ministers in the current UK government.

The last minute trade deal agreed between the UK and EU at the end of last year does not include any EU-wide provision ensuring visa and permit free travel for performers touring the continent – despite promises repeatedly made by British ministers that such provisions would be included. It means that artists and their crews must now tackle different entry rules for each EU member state.

In some countries there will be no new requirements, but in others travel permits may be required for people, and carnets for equipment. The costs involved in navigating and tackling all that new bureaucracy will make many European tours for British artists unviable. Even bigger tours may be more likely to employ crew members from elsewhere in the EU in order to reduce admin costs.

As criticism of that new bureaucracy grew within the music and political communities earlier this year, Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson told MPs “we must fix this”, adding: “Actually, there are plenty of conversations already happening at national capital levels between the UK and our partners. David Frost is in overall charge of making this happen”.

A nice bold commitment from Johnson which, it seems, didn’t quite work its way back to Frost himself. As the Independent has noted, Frost’s line now is that “it is the responsibility of DCMS [the Department For Digital, Culture, Media & Sport] to take this forward with our embassies”. It’s a Culture problem, see?

Of course, if you run Johnson’s statement from March through Google Translate – converting it from Bullshit into English – you do get: “We’re going to do fuck all, because we don’t fucking care, but if I waffle on long enough maybe you won’t notice”.

Even so, Frost’s blunt comments yesterday to the effect that all this is a necessary consequence of the government’s Brexit priorities; that ministers are hoping that they maybe able to reduce some of the new bureaucratic requirements in some way, somehow, someday; but that none of this is really his problem anyway; were, well, surprising. Actually, no, it was entirely predictable.

Frost also confirmed what we already knew. That both the UK and the EU had made proposals that would have allowed visa free touring for performers, but that neither side liked the other’s proposal. The EU’s proposal, he added, would have conflicted with the government’s firm policy that all freedom of movement between the EU and the UK must be ended.

And, let’s never forget, back in 2016, 26.5% of the UK population voted in favour of the wishy washy, multi-layered, deliberately undefined concept that was “Brexit”. Which means the specific interpretation of Brexit favoured by the Boris Johnson faction of the British Conservative Party – including its firm stance on freedom of movement – is definitely the “will of the people”.

With all that in mind, Frost also confirmed that, rather than having new talks with EU officials in Brussels, the government’s plan is to instead negotiate bespoke deals with each EU member state to try to reduce any new bureaucratic requirements, starting with the countries that are both priority markets for British performers and which currently have the most painful permit requirements.

You know, like Spain. And discussions with Spain are already under way. Erm, as of yesterday. Those talks being delayed while DCMS waited for approval from, well, a committee led by Frost.

Though, Frost did concede, not all the issues raised about post-Brexit touring can be dealt with on a country-by-country basis, with the so called cabotage rules that impact on the touring of equipment around Europe being a matter for the EU. Don’t worry though, the Department Of Transport is looking into that. I mean, nothing’s happened yet, but, some day, some how, maybe. But either way, and Frost was very clear on this, that’s a Transport problem, see?

So, basically, it was a big old fuck you from Frosty. I wonder what’s worse. A Johnson-style fuck you covered in bullshit so to pretend that something is actually happening. Or a Frosty-style fuck you which, at least, is a nice clear fuck you. However, Frost did have one positive suggestion for the music community. It should be working harder to persuade EU countries to pull down the bureaucratic barriers currently facing British performers. Because that’s really a Music Industry problem, see?

Needless to say, the recently launched music industry campaign calling for urgent measures to mitigate the impact of the post-Brexit bureaucratic barriers was not impressed with Frost’s performance before the culture select committee.

“Today’s select committee session will do little to soothe the growing concerns of the UK’s artists, musicians and live music businesses”, a spokesperson said. “While we continue to suffer the catastrophic impacts of COVID, many are now in open despair at the government’s disturbing lack of urgency to address a range of Brexit-related bureaucracy and costs that will make EU touring almost prohibitively expensive and burdensome”.

“Despite being told by the Prime Minister in March that Lord Frost was dealing with these issues and would ‘fix it'”, they added, “we’re still left with only crumbs of additional information and absolutely no update on the kind of transitional support package that will be vital for music businesses to operate in the short-term. To put this in context, the UK’s £1 billion fishing industry has received £23m to adjust to new red tape. As it stands, our £6 billion world beating music industry is being hung out to dry. It feels like a complete abdication of responsibility”.

This story is discussed on this edition of our Setlist podcast