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Key post-Brexit touring issues highlighted ahead of Parliamentary debate

By | Published on Monday 8 February 2021


Later today, UK MPs will debate what, if anything, to do about the problems faced by British musicians who want to tour Europe post-Brexit. Ahead of this, the Musicians’ Union and the Incorporated Society Of Musicians have together summarised the three key issues.

Today’s debate comes off the back of a petition, signed by more than 280,000 people, calling for the government to return to the negotiating table with officials from the European Union to secure visa-free travel for touring musicians and their crew.

There has been much discussion about this, as avoiding barriers to touring artists was one of the many things the British government promised but failed to deliver on in its post-Brexit EU trade deal. The UK blames the EU for this, while the EU says it’s the UK’s fault.

The MU and ISM say that they have already held “constructive” meetings with politicians and civil servants. Ahead of today’s virtual meeting in which MPs will respond to the petition, the two organisations have broken down the problem into three specific areas: permits, carnets and other logistics.

First, with no EU-wide deal, each EU country is now operating different rules regarding UK artists. While member states can chose to require both a visa and work permit when UK citizens enter their country for paid work, some offer an exemption for cultural activities. However, many do not, which makes planning for tours complicated and expensive. It also means that travelling to some countries at short notice is now all but impossible.

Secondly, there is still uncertainly around the paperwork required and extra costs that will be incurred when transporting instruments and equipment around Europe. It is unclear if musicians will have to purchase a ‘carnet’ in order to move instruments through customs. If required, the cost can vary depending on what is being transported, but it starts at around £400 – an amount that would make performing financially unviable in many situations.

Thirdly, while many fears are focussed on smaller artists, there are also concerns that new rules will make it much more difficult to organise bigger European tours using large vehicles.

“The MU welcomes this collaboration with the ISM”, says the union’s General Secretary Horace Trubridge. “The future of touring in the EU depends very much on achieving changes to the situation we find ourselves in arising from the conclusion of the negotiations for the [UK/EU trade deal]”.

“We urgently need both the EU and the UK to agree provisions for musicians and crew that will avoid costly and complicated bureaucracy”, he adds. “As things stand, work visas, work permits, restrictions on haulage and uncertainty regarding carnets all present barriers for our world leading musicians. We were promised frictionless mobility for musicians and their crew and now we need the EU and the UK to deliver just that”.

ISM Chief Executive Deborah Annetts says: “We are delighted to join with the Musicians’ Union to ensure that politicians listen to the concerns of our sector. We urge the UK government to take the necessary steps to ensure border arrangements after Brexit do not negatively impact the creative industries, harming both musicians’ livelihoods and the music industry itself”.

“Collaborative solutions to address issues around visas, administrative and financial challenges are desperately needed for a sector which has been so badly affected by COVID-19”, she goes on. “Now is the time for the UK and EU to come together to fix these problems and ensure that close cultural collaboration can continue after Brexit”.

Whether or not any of this will be sorted out before COVID restrictions lift and touring begins again remains to be seen. Last week Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden offered little hope – although following a meeting with Elton John he apparently seemed quite keen on setting up a website.

You’ll be able to watch the debate on the UK Parliament YouTube channel at 4.30pm today.