Demand to Extend Visa-Free Touring to Musicians Rejected by UK Ministers

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Recently, UK ministers dismissed the demand to push visa-free touring for musicians and performers. The rejection came in response to a collective letter signed by some of the UK’s most renowned musicians and artists.

The open letter, published in The Times, had called on the UK government to ensure the continuation of visa-free touring in the European Union. It had over 110 signatories including renowned musical stars like Sir Elton John and Sir Simon Rattle, pop and rock figures like Ed Sheeran, Sex Pistols, Radiohead as well as classical composers such as Judith Weir.

Earlier in January, a petition had also been filed to seek EU-wide visa-free work permits for UK citizens associated with music touring professionals, bands, performers, artists, and sports celebrities. The petition garnered over 279,737 signatures and was forwarded to the parliament for further debate.

Both the petition and letter came to the limelight after the final UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement was sealed on Christmas Eve 2020, only a handful of days before new regulations came into effect on 1st January 2021. It had been hoped that this agreement would make special allowances to assist touring professionals.

Brexit and Artists: What is the main issue?

Now that free movement has ended and no exception has been made to facilitate UK artists under the new deal, performing in the EU states has become a lot more expensive and complicated.

Under the current rules, UK citizen musicians and artists who want to perform in the EU must now check domestic immigration and visa rules for each EU state that they plan on touring. Some EU states will also require additional work permits and tariffs from the performers, which will increase the overall cost of touring.

Touring bands must pay additional fees which include carnets (permits) for their merchandise and equipment. Other restrictions include the imposition of limits on road haulage since under the present rules, drivers must return to the UK after visiting two EU states.

The post-Brexit rules also make it mandatory for artists and crews from the EU to obtain visas to perform in the UK.

The Letter

The open letter which was organised by the Incorporated Society of Musicians and the Liberal Democrats decried the new deal and said that British musicians, dancers, actors, and their crews had 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 for many countries they visit and a mountain of paperwork for their equipment,” it read.

The letter also claimed that the extra costs would make international travel impossible for many smaller musicians and called on the government to “urgently do what it said it would do and negotiate paperwork-free travel in Europe for British artists and their equipment.”

“For the sake of British fans wanting to see European performers in the UK and British venues wishing to host them, the deal should be reciprocal,” it added.

UK Government’s Response

There has been to and fro between Brussels and London about the issue of travelling artists losing their livelihood because of the newly imposed restrictions on their movement.

The UK government responded by asking the signatories of the letter to ask the EU why it rejected the “sensible UK proposal.” According to a UK government spokesman, the government was not taking the concerns of musicians lightly.

They said that the official position was to ensure that performers could work across the entire continent. “We absolutely agree that musicians should be able to work across Europe,” they said in a statement.

“The UK Government put forward a proposal, based on feedback from the music sector, that would have allowed musicians to tour – but the EU repeatedly rejected this,” claimed the spokesman.

“The EU’s offer in the negotiations would not have worked for touring musicians: it did not deal with work permits at all and would not have allowed support staff to tour with artists. The signatories of this letter should be asking the EU why they rejected the sensible UK proposal,” they asserted.

However, earlier last week, the culture minister Caroline Dineage had admitted that the UK government had in fact rejected a deal with the EU on the matter during Brexit negotiations.

According to her, the EU’s “very broad” offer “was not compatible with our manifesto agenda of reclaiming control of our borders.” She added that the changes would have permitted visa-free short stays in UK for all EU citizens. Dineage also said that “the door was open” if the EU was willing to consider the UK’s proposal on the issue of mobility of UK citizens, especially artists and performers.

The EU’s Position

Meanwhile, authorities in the EU claim that it was the UK that rejected plans that would have allowed musicians to continue travelling across the continent on a visa-free basis.

EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said, “From last March, we made fairly ambitious proposals in terms of mobility, including for specific categories such as journalists, performers, musicians, and others,” he went on. “But you need to be two to make a deal.”

Recent Developments

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden hosted a virtual meeting with representatives of the music industry. He assured the musicians that the government was considering ways of offering post-Brexit financial support to musicians.

Dowden also created a ‘working group’ to resolve the issue and informed the participants that he was looking into the ways government could assist touring musicians (UK citizens) who were facing extra costs in EU.

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