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Denying UK musicians visa-free EU touring is “absurd and self-defeating”, says Culture Secretary, but don’t expect to get it

By | Published on Friday 5 February 2021

Live Music

UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden has said that leaving UK artists without access to visa-free touring across the European Union post-Brexit is “absurd and self-defeating”.

But before you get too warmed by that, Elton John left a meeting with the politician this week with the belief that any plan to go back to the negotiating table to secure an agreement that would allow such access is not “on the cards”.

Dowden spoke on the subject in the House Of Commons yesterday, after Conservative MP Clive Watling told him that discussions about visa-free touring “must be brought back to the table”.

“Touring performers will be left with a double whammy of an industry devastated by COVID and the loss of an entire continent as a venue”, said Watling. “Will [Dowden] please bang the table and get the EU back to talk on this?”

Dowden agreed that the barriers now facing British musicians who want to tour Europe are “absurd and self-defeating” and “could have been solved” before 1 Jan, when the UK finally cut ties with the EU.

However, he again blamed European officials for the failure to reach an agreement that musicians touring Europe would not need travel permits and/or equipment carnets post-Brexit, something UK ministers had promised the music community.

Culture minister Nigel Huddleston added that the “door always remains open” for further talks. However, a door can be open without anyone actually walking through it. And that, according to Elton John at least, is what is set to happen.

John and his husband David Furnish met with Dowden in a video call earlier this week, in which they seem to have agreed that being able to earn a living from touring – even once COVID is over – is now going to be very difficult for many British musicians. They did then talk about organising a website to explain that to artists though. So that’s good.

“It’s much more difficult for young artists to get this together because of all the red tape”, John told the BBC after the meeting. “Every country has these different rules, there’s so much procedure to go through. People like myself are not really affected by it, [as] we have a foundation of people who can look after it. It still has to be done but it’s much easier”.

“We find ourselves in the situation because of Brexit, this has arisen”, he went on. “How do we fix this? How can we fix this? I want the situation to be resolved, so that young people don’t have the difficulties of trying to tour in Europe, because it will affect their careers, it will stunt their growth and their creativity”.

One idea discussed in the meeting was setting up this website, seemingly funded by record labels, to help artists “with the logistics of touring in Europe”.

“If they can be helped through this it will take away a lot of their fears, and make life easier”, said John. “I’m sure we can establish this, and we have to basically, otherwise they’re going to have not much of a future, and that is a crying shame, as there’s so many great artists out there”.

Dowden also tweeted: “Great to speak with [Elton John] and David Furnish on growing the UK music sector. We had a very positive call where we discussed opportunities to help talented musicians tour both EU and rest of the world more easily. Lots of work going on in government on this”.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid all this – and all the other destruction of UK businesses brought on by Brexit – would be not to have left the EU in the first place. But, hey, that’s done now. Well done, everyone. Still, I think we can all agree that it will have been worth it if we get a nice new website to look at.