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#LetTheMusicMove campaigns for resolution to UK touring musicians’ “no deal Brexit”

By | Published on Wednesday 23 June 2021


On the fifth anniversary of the Brexit referendum, today more than 200 artists – including Radiohead, The Chemical Brothers, Wolf Alice and Annie Lennox – are backing a new campaign called #LetTheMusicMove. They are calling on the UK government to finally act to reduce the new expenditure, restrictions and bureaucracy facing British artists wishing to touring Europe as a result of the UK leaving the EU, saying that musicians have effectively been forced into a “no deal Brexit”.

This is the latest of many calls on the government to find a resolution for touring artists before pandemic restrictions are lifted. Despite many promises by ministers prior to the new UK-EU trade deal being signed at the end of 2020 that artists would still be able to tour freely in Europe post-Brexit, this turned out not to be the case, with no such provisions included in that last minute deal.

Ministers have repeatedly acknowledged that this is an issue, with Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson telling Parliament that he is “passionate” about fixing things. So far, however, little has been done, beyond securing visa-free access to Liechtenstein.

With no EU-wide agreement on touring, artists and their teams must now approach European tours on a country-by-country basis. In some countries there will be no new restrictions, while in others there will be requirements for travel permits for performers and crew and/or carnets for equipment. The increased cost and bureaucracy will make many tours financially unviable, with a potentially devastating impact on the incomes of British artists and the ability of the UK to export music to Europe.

Organisers of the #LetTheMusicMove campaign say that Europe is the most important overseas market for British music, with UK artists playing four times as many shows there than in the US in 2019. Those European shows alone supported 33,000 jobs in the UK, many of which will be lost if European touring falters.

The campaigners also list various new barriers to touring facing British artists, including that touring vehicles will be limited to only three stops in Europe before having to return home, and often expensive carnets will be required in order to transport equipment around the continent. Honing in on the fact that different countries will have different rules for British artists, they say that Spain, which is the UK’s second biggest touring market, has one of the biggest burdens of new paperwork and costs.

The campaign calls for four immediate actions to begin remedying the situation:

• An urgent Transitional Support Package to cover new and additional costs for touring artists and crews in the EU.

• Measures to overcome restrictive “cabotage” rules on UK vehicles touring Europe.

• A viable long-term plan for UK artists and crew to continue working in all EU-27 countries, without costly permits and bureaucracy.

• A commitment to ensure European artists have reciprocal freedoms and access to perform at UK venues and festivals.

Commenting on the campaign, Featured Artists Coalition CEO David Martin says: “The UK’s music industry is a success story. It contributes enormously to the economy and provides the country with unparalleled soft power, yet we have been dealt a no deal Brexit. Five years on from the referendum vote and six months after the deal was agreed, there has been scant progress from the government to protect the artist businesses that fuel the industry”.

“Touring is essential”, he goes on. “It provides opportunities to build audiences, access new markets and develop careers, and it is this activity that supports our recorded music sector. It is time for the government to fulfil the Prime Minister’s promises to ‘fix’ the crisis facing Britain’s artists”.

One of the artists backing the campaign, Blur’s David Rowntree, adds: “Blur played our first gig outside the UK in Rotterdam in February 1991. We just jumped on a ferry with no restrictions for us or our gear. That August we were back in the Netherlands, followed by dates in Germany, France and then on into a full European tour”.

“If we were starting out today trying to do the same”, he notes, “there would be a vast range of bureaucracy and costs, with different regimes in every country. We simply wouldn’t be able to afford it. The UK government has to take this issue seriously and support touring artists. The future of British music is at stake”.

Robbie Williams’ manager Tim Clark also comments: “British artists have benefitted hugely from being able to tour in Europe particularly since the need for visas and carnets were abolished on our entry into the EU. The financial ramifications of any reintroduction of red tape will make it extremely difficult for all but the biggest artists to tour profitably”.

Earlier this month, Brexit deal negotiator David Frost was due to appear before Parliament’s culture select committee to explain how he failed musicians so badly and what was now being done to resolve the issues brought about by his deal. However, he failed to show up to the hearing, which doesn’t suggest he is bursting with positive things to say. He is expected to appear at a rescheduled hearing later this month.

You can find out more about the new campaign by visiting the #LetTheMusicMove campaign here.