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Over 300 cultural organisations criticise PM’s “absence of a clear plan” for EU touring

By | Published on Wednesday 28 April 2021


More than 300 organisations from the creative industries have signed an open letter to UK Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson asking exactly when he’s going to sort out the absolute disaster Brexit has brought upon them, as well as offering suggestions for how he might bloody well get on and do so.

Arranged by the Incorporated Society Of Musicians, the letter is signed by organisations including UK Music, the Musicians’ Union, the BPI, PRS For Music, PPL, the Featured Artists Coalition and the Music Managers Forum.

It notes that Johnson made personal commitments last month about finding a solution to issues faced by British performers and companies who wish to tour in the EU, but says that there is still an “absence of a clear plan”, with the clock running down to when COVID rules start to relax and touring becomes a reality again.

“Senior leaders in our sector have had numerous meetings with civil servants, where we have presented a range of workable solutions”, says the letter. “However, we are extremely concerned by the lack of progress which has been achieved over the last three months to unravel the mountain of costly bureaucracy and red tape which now faces the creative industries”.

“You stated [in March] that the government is working ‘flat out’ with individual EU member states and we understand that the immediate focus is to improve their guidance around entry and work requirements”, it goes on. “However, this by itself is not sufficient to deliver frictionless mobility for our sector which was a commitment during the Brexit negotiations”.

Frustrated by this lack of progress, the signatories of the letter propose a four point plan for fixing the problems before COVID restrictions are lifted and European touring can get up and running again. They are to:

• negotiate a bespoke visa waiver agreement with the EU for the creative sector, covering all creative professionals.

• negotiate bilateral agreements with key individual EU member states that do not currently offer cultural exemptions for work permits, or with key states which are the most important financially for creative workers.

• provide an emergency funding package to compensate for additional costs British performers now face when undertaking work in Europe.

• reduce the adverse impact of the new road haulage and cross-trade rules that has made it impossible for touring companies to facilitate pan-European tours.

All of these recommendations have been made by the creative industries previously, but seemingly the letter’s signatories remain concerned that none of it has sunk in with Johnson or his government. The COVID-19 pandemic actually gave a helpful buffer to avoid immediate disaster when the UK’s new trade deal with the EU came into force earlier this year, of course. However, that time is running out.

Without any provision for visa-free touring for British musicians, once COVID restrictions lift and touring resumes UK artists and companies seeking to play around the EU will need to deal with the visa, permit and carnet requirements of each individual EU member state.

In some states there will be no issue, but in others there could be a great deal of paperwork and new costs to contend with. This could result in many tours simply becoming commercially unviable, which would not just have a detrimental effect on individual artist’s incomes, but also on the multi-billion pound contribution the creative industries make to the UK economy.

The government made promises that visa-free touring would be part of its EU trade deal, but when it was agreed at the last minute in December, no such commitment was in place. Both sides blamed each other, saying that they had put forward proposals that had been rejected. Responding to increasingly vocal concerns about all this from the industry, Johnson said in March that he was personally “passionate” about finding a solution.

In a statement alongside the new letter, Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society Of Musicians, says: “It is extremely frustrating that despite the firm commitment made by the Prime Minister last month to fix the crisis facing the creative industry, we have not witnessed any real progress achieved by his officials to deliver on this pledge”

“Unravelling the huge bureaucratic obstacles preventing touring musicians and other creative workers from working in Europe is now an urgent priority as we look beyond coronavirus, otherwise work will be lost and businesses will go under”, she goes on. “This letter should send a strong message to the Prime Minister that empty promises will not cut it, and to sort this mess out the government must negotiate a bespoke visa waiver agreement with the EU as well as bilateral deals on work permits with key EU member states”.

Whether this letter has any effect whatsoever remains to be seen. One big issue is that the UK government isn’t keen on letting foreigners into the country, just in case they inadvertently enrich our lives and open us up to new things. That all hinders negotiations with the EU and its members, though some reckon deals can nevertheless be done providing the necessary effort is put into it all.

You can read the open letter in full here.

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