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MU and ISM call for more urgency from government over post-Brexit touring issues

By | Published on Friday 12 March 2021


The Musicians’ Union and Incorporated Society Of Musicians have called on the UK government to urgently deal with the problems created for touring artists by Brexit. Although ministers have conceded that those problems need to be dealt with – and have talked about seeking unilateral deals with individual EU member states and setting up a cultural export office to support British performers – the MU and ISM fear that the government is not progressing with any of that anywhere near quick enough.

The big post-Brexit UK/EU trade deal, of course, did not include any provisions ensuring bureaucracy-free touring for British artists across the EU, or European artists within the UK.

Once COVID restrictions start to lift, UK artists touring Europe will now need to navigate different rules when entering each country. Some countries will require the artist to secure travel permits for themselves and their crew, and/or carnets for their equipment. Which, to use the technical term, is a bit of a fucker.

The extra costs and admin could make many tours unviable, especially given that artists and promoters will have just incurred a fifteen to eighteen month COVID-caused shutdown once international touring resumes.

Everyone agrees that this is a problem. The UK would like it to be known that this problem began with the fucking EU bureaucrats in fucking Brussels. Although the fucking EU bureaucrats in fucking Brussels would like it to be known that the xenophobes and political opportunists in ‘Boris’ Johnson’s comedy government actually caused the fuck up, mainly in a bid to pander to the racists among the British electorate that delivered them their political power. I mean, I’m paraphrasing a little, but that is basically the official line on each side.

Since the fuck up was revealed at the end of last year, there has been much debate as to whether getting a sneaky extra EU-wide deal for touring performers is in any way viable, or if securing reciprocal deals between the UK and individual European countries to ensure permit/carnet-free travel for artists is more realistic. Maybe something needs to happen at both an EU level and a national level.

Meanwhile, more recently, it’s been suggested that the government could set up a cultural export office to help British performers with all this – so while they’ll still be traveling up shit creek, at least they’ll have a paddle.

All that is seemingly being considered by the powers that be in the UK. Which is nice. But, worry the MU and ISM, that consideration lacks any sense of urgency. And that’s a double fucker, given that the music community really needs progress to be made on this before the COVID restrictions start to lift.

Following further discussion on the post-Brexit touring shitstorm in the House Of Lords yesterday, the two musician organisations said that while they “welcomed the government reiterating its pledge to find workable solutions to critical issues like mobility … the proposal for a cultural export office is a long-term measure”.

“The urgent challenges facing musicians”, they added, “can only be immediately solved if the UK government negotiates a bespoke visa waiver agreement with the EU for the creative sector and enters bilateral discussions with key EU member states to sort out work permit rules”.

“Visa waiver agreements are common practice and the EU has entered into 28 of them with countries like Colombia, UAE, Tonga and St Lucia since 2009”, they went on. “Legal experts have advised they are both hugely beneficial for musicians and compatible with the government’s manifesto commitments”.

In yesterday’s Lords session it was the turn of minister Diana Barran to deliver the government’s customary line of: “This is a big problem, we must fix this problem, and we’ll do everything we can to fix this problem, except – of course – actually fixing this problem”.

OK, a little more paraphrasing there. “Responding to peers from across the political spectrum”, the MU and ISM reported, “[Diana] Barran said the government were working to address issues around mobility by collecting evidence but offered no signs of immediate activity”.

This despite a senior civil servant from the government’s Department For Digital, Culture, Media & Sport telling Parliament’s culture select committee on 16 Feb that “the UK would engage with key EU member states in the coming weeks”. To that end, the MU and ISM are calling on the government “to provide an update on progress with these bilateral discussions”.

Stressing again the urgency in getting these problems solved, MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge said last night: “We are now close to three months since the UK left the EU with no agreement to ensure the frictionless mobility of musicians as was repeatedly promised by this government for the last three years. This situation has created alarm and despondency among musicians whose livelihoods have been destroyed by COVID-19 but were planning to resume their careers by performing live in EU member states later this year”.

“We urgently need a progress report from ministers on securing visa-free touring and bilateral agreements to reassure the music community that more is happening to remedy the situation beyond mere words”, he added.

Meanwhile, ISM CEO Deborah Annetts said: “I am delighted that so many parliamentarians have spoken out about the problems facing musicians after Brexit, including around visas and work permits. For months, the government has promised to try and find workable solutions to the mountain of costs and red tape that will prevent tours, particularly by emerging performers. With the music sector planning our return after coronavirus, it is time for proactive action to ensure that the barriers created by the pandemic are not replaced by new bureaucratic obstacles”.

Talking of support in Parliament for addressing the post-Brexit touring problems, a number of lords and MPs have signed a letter also calling for more action in this domain. The letter has been organised by a campaign called Carry On Touring, which came off the back of the petition set up on the Parliament website by Tim Brennan, in turn leading to one of the earlier parliamentary debates on this issue.

That letter also says that, while an export office would be great, it’s not a speedy or perfect solution to this problem. “A music export office would, of course, be very welcome”, it states. “However, we fear that, on its own, it will not unravel or reduce the bureaucratic and regulatory burden the music and wider creative sector will face when they work and tour in the EU. We hope that the government will recognise that we need help to fix the real problems created by the sheer costs, paperwork and time-limits”.

“We believe that the ability to carry on touring will only be addressed, in any meaningful sense, via a visa waiver agreement with the EU, exempting touring performers, creative teams and crews”, it goes on. “We call on the government to fight our corner and return to the negotiating table. The impact on our lives and our ability to earn and pay tax in an industry that brings pleasure to millions of people is under huge pressure”.

Finally, in terms of Brexit news this week, the Scottish Music Industry Association has published a new report looking at the impact of the UK leaving the EU on the Scottish music industry. It makes a number of recommendations, both in terms of the touring issues and on the other ways in which Brexit could impact upon the music community in Scotland. You can download a copy here.

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