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Music industry puts more pressure on government over post-Brexit touring as ministers consider bilateral arrangements with individual EU countries

By | Published on Thursday 21 January 2021

Live Music

Music industry reps yesterday met with UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden to discuss the problems facing British musicians touring Europe post-Brexit. The meeting followed the publication of an open letter demanding that the government act on this issue as soon as possible, signed by a plethora of artists, performers and music industry people.

When the last minute post-Brexit UK/EU trade deal was published last month it quickly became apparent that there was no provision ensuring visa-free touring for British artists in the EU or EU artists in the UK. That was despite previous assurances from ministers and officials that, providing a trade deal was agreed, musicians would not face any new bureaucracy when touring Europe once the UK was no longer a member of the EU.

With no provision for visa-free touring in the deal, UK musicians must now comply with the rules of each individual EU country when touring there. In some of those countries, that means musicians and crew will need to get travel permits and/or equipment carnets. It’s feared that the cost and hassle of doing so will make some European tours unviable.

Both the UK and the EU have blamed the other side for there not being a provision covering visa-free touring in the trade deal. That seems to be because both sides made their own proposals that would have allowed musicians to tour Europe visa-free, but neither side approved of the other’s plan.

In the House Of Commons earlier this week, Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage explained that the EU’s proposals were not narrow enough and would therefore have allowed far too many smelly foreigners into the country, which would have gone against her government’s all important “fuck all the foreigners” manifesto commitment. I mean, I’m paraphrasing slightly. But only slightly.

That said, Dinenage insisted that the “door is open” for further discussions with EU officials about a narrower arrangement that would remove visa requirements for UK artists in the EU and vice versa.

The government has made similar commitments ever since the music industry and its supporters in Parliament hit out at the lack of a provision for touring musicians when the big trade deal was made public. Though it’s not clear that ministers feel quite the same sense of urgency as the music community, which is pushing for a solution to be found before COVID restrictions lift and touring becomes a reality again.

Stressing just how big an impact a failure to find a solution will have on the music community, that open letter in The Times yesterday stated: “British musicians, dancers, actors and their support staff have been shamefully failed by their government. The deal done with the EU has a gaping hole where the promised free movement for musicians should be: everyone on a European music tour will now need costly work permits and a mountain of paperwork for their equipment”.

“The extra costs will make many tours unviable”, it went on, “especially for young emerging musicians who are already struggling to keep their heads above water owing to the COVID ban on live music. This negotiating failure will tip many performers over the edge”.

Among those signing the letter were Simon Rattle, Nicola Benedetti, Ed Sheeran, Elton John, Aitch, Brian Eno, Brian May, Joss Stone, Liam Gallager, Iron Maiden, The 1975, Glass Animals and Fryars. Oh, and a certain Roger Daltrey, who previously dismissed concerns that Brexit would have a negative impact on touring musicians.

It remains to be seen whether any speedy progress can actually be made on this issue. In the meantime, the government does have a Plan B, revealed in the House Of Lords yesterday, which is to agree narrower exemptions for touring musicians with individual EU countries.

Either way, following yesterday’s meeting with Dowden, UK Music urged the government to keep this problem high up its agenda. The cross-sector trade group also noted just how much work ministers did to try to score a special a deal for the fishing sector, which is about a quarter the size of the UK music industry.

UK Music CEO Jamie Njoku-Goodwin said: “The UK music industry has always been a global success story and post-Brexit we should be doing everything we can to help our world-leading musical talent tour abroad and fly the flag for Britain. But the prospect of additional costs and red tape is already deterring many musicians from touring the continent in the future – which is a huge loss both to our country and to Europe”.

“As an industry, we aren’t interested in playing a blame game”, he added. “We just want to reach a solution that enables us to continue delivering the positive benefits for the UK that we always have done. So it was welcome to hear the government’s commitment to working to reach a solution, but we will continue to press for action that resolves the challenges our industry is facing from Brexit.

“With the fishing industry”, he went on, “the government has shown a willingness to help key national industries adjust to new export requirements. As a £5.8 billion industry that supports 200,000 jobs and generates £2.9 billion in exports, the music industry must also be supported through these challenges”.