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Music industry responds to government’s latest statement on post-Brexit touring

By | Published on Wednesday 10 February 2021


The music industry has responded to comments made by the UK government’s Minister For Digital And Culture during a debate on the visa issues now facing British musicians as they tour Europe post-Brexit. In the main, they weren’t impressed with Caroline Dinenage’s remarks.

The debate on Monday was responding to a petition set up on the Parliament website after it became clear at the end of last year that the post-Brexit UK/EU trade deal did not, as expected and promised, include visa-free touring for musicians and crews.

That means that, once COVID restrictions are lifted, British musicians touring Europe will be subject to different entry rules in each EU country. Some countries will require musicians to get travel permits and/or equipment carnets, all of which could make some tours unviable.

As anger increased over the fact visa-free touring was not part of the trade deal, UK ministers were quick to blame the EU which, they said, had knocked back their perfectly reasonable proposals regarding British performers performing in a post-Brexit Europe. The EU quickly countered that it was, in fact, the UK that rejected its proposals.

It turns out that both sides were technically correct. In that both sides made different proposals. And both sides then rejected the other side’s plan.

At the Parliamentary debate on the petition, various MPs ran through all the issues that music industry reps have raised ever since the impact of Brexit on touring became apparent.

It was then left to Dinenage to defend the government. She waffled on a bit about how great culture is, and how annoying it is that Britain’s great cultural industries now face all these new challenges, and how everyone is super aware about the financial implications of all this.

She also insisted that she wasn’t interested in playing the blame game. Though that insistence came right in the middle of her playing the blame game.

“The UK pushed for ambitious arrangements for performers and artists to be able to work across Europe after the end of freedom of movement”, she told MPs. “Of course we did, because they are so vital to our economy. Our proposals were very straightforward”.

“They involved capturing the work done by musicians, by artists, by entertainers, and their accompanying staff, through the list of permitted activities for short-term business visitors … This would have meant performers and artists could travel and work in the UK and EU more easily and would mean there were no requirements for work permits either”.

These arrangements weren’t just made up civil servants, she insisted. They were informed by the very best experts from across the music industry. The resulting proposals were nice and straightforward too. And yet, “quite simply”, Dinenage declared, “the EU rejected this proposal”.

“There was no specific counter-offer from the EU concerning touring for musicians or for the creative sectors”, she then claimed. Yes, there were other more generic proposals about visa-free business travel, but, she insisted, those wouldn’t have achieved what the music industry wanted anyway.

And, of course, they would have conflicted big time with the “fuck all foreigners” manifesto with which her best bud ‘Boris’ Johnson rose to power.

“What there was, in other areas of negotiation, was that the EU tabled text regarding paid activities that can be conducted without a visa”, she went on. “And this suggested that that might include ad-hoc performances, so these proposals would not have addressed the sector’s concerns”.

“Critically, these proposals put forward by the EU were non-binding; they did not include any of the technical or touring staff who we know are absolutely vital. They did not address the massive issue of work permits which are different in every member state of the EU”.

“On top of all this”, she added, “while not offering any special carve-out for performers, the EU’s proposals were also part of this package of visa-free travel for not only current members of the EU but any future EU member, and that was across a whole wide range of other sectors. It’s just simply not consistent with the manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders and it wasn’t consistent with the idea of Brexit that the majority of people in this country voted for”.

That “majority of people”, by the way, in case you need reminding, is the 27% of the population who voted Leave in the 2016 EU referendum and the 21% of the population who voted for ‘Boris’ Johnson’s Conservative Party in the 2019 general election. Yay majorities!

“This isn’t a blame game”, Dinenage concluded. “The outcome is regrettable – it’s not the deal the government wanted. But our door remains 100% open [for new negotiations] if the EU should change its mind”.

Among those responding to Dineage’s statement were Tim Burgess, who has been among an increasing number of musicians being vocal about the post-Brexit visa issues on social media.

He told NME: “It just seems that everybody involved was hugely supportive of the plight of musicians … apart from the one person who could actually [do] something about it. They have made it about immigration when it really isn’t. It’s about culture, but we seem to have a government that doesn’t care too much about anything connected with the arts”.

In its statement, the Musicians’ Union said: “With more details now emerging, it now seems that the key disagreement between the UK and the EU was over the scope of the proposal – the UK government suggested something that would have been specific to performers and touring crew. The EU wanted a broader visa-free travel agreement for a number of sectors, which was unacceptable to the UK government and the Home Office in particular”

Noting its ongoing campaign with the Incorporated Society Of Musicians on this issue, it went on: “The MU thinks that it would now be best to reopen discussions with a new proposal that could solve the problem, in order to move away from the current political blame game”.

“To that end”, it said, “we are working with the ISM and other music industry organisations to come up with potential solutions. More information on these will be available over the next few weeks. In the meantime, we continue our discussions with individual EU countries to try and ensure that rules and regulations for touring musicians are as non-onerous as possible”.

Meanwhile, also responding to Dinenage’s remarks, David Martin, CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition, told reporters: “Are we really at the point of claiming that a functioning and thriving music industry in the UK is at odds with leaving the EU? If so, that is a staggering admission”.

“Artists, songwriters, producers, managers, musicians, crew, festivals, venues, promoters, labels in the UK, plus countless others employed and engaged across our industry are simply not going to lie down on this issue”, he went on. “Government would be sensible to recognise that this matter will not go away and that we will not be quiet”.

“Beyond the enormous financial contribution of our industry – twelve times more added to the UK economy in GVA than fishing, in 2019 – our status, global recognition and wellbeing are reliant on the UK’s music industry, and the social value that it is responsible for is immeasurable. It is ingrained in our DNA”.

“Whilst the FAC continues to engage with government to find short term solutions to the myriad problems caused by the UK’s current regulatory position, it is not enough to simply say ‘the door is open'”, he concluded. “The UK government must be proactive in engaging European counterparts, both at EU and at individual member state level. The current levels of frustration seen across the industry, and in the public, will only grow if government remain passive and do not actively pursue credible and realistic solutions”.

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