Government criticised for inaction and told “words won’t save careers” in “critical” Brexit touring fiasco

"The reality is that five months after the deal was struck, the music industry is no further forward"

Ahead of an online summit this week, figures from the UK music industry have criticised the government over the continued lack of action and clarity over the Brexit touring situation.

The government’s failure to negotiate visa-free travel and Europe-wide work permits for musicians and crew has sparked fears that artists will face huge costs to future live music tours of the continent which could create a glass ceiling that prevents rising and developing artists from being able to afford to do so.

It is also warned that thousands of jobs and millions in income for crew, haulage and production will also be lost to the EU.

Now, ahead of the #CarryOnTouring UK-EU summit and Day Of Action this week, the government has been criticised for still not making the situation any clearer for UK artists wishing to plan European tours. A Working Group with representatives from across the creative and cultural sectors has been set up, but it is said that nothing significant has come from it yet.

David Martin is CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition, a UK trade body representing the specific rights and interests of music with members including Radiohead‘s Ed O’Brien and Imogen Heap, and told NME that “things simply are not moving fast enough”.

“While it may seem encouraging to hear Government representatives all the way up to the Prime Minister continually state that they are prioritising this issue, warm words won’t save artists’ careers or other music businesses,” Martin told NME. “The barriers faced by touring professionals following our exit from the EU are real and potentially terminal. The reality is that five months after the deal was struck, the music industry is no further forward.

“Government must take immediate, decisive action by providing a financial, tour support package and must fulfil their promises by rapidly agreeing more sustainable, long-term solutions.”

The XX perform live during a concert at the Astra Club on January 22, 2010 in Berlin, Germany.(Photo by Jakubaszek/Getty Images)
The XX perform live during a concert at the Astra Club in Berlin, Germany.(Photo by Jakubaszek/Getty Images)

Tomorrow (Thursday May 20) will see #CarryOnTouring’s We Can Work It Out online summit – which is being held in a fresh bid “to demonstrate support for creative touring professionals and artists” whose livelihoods will be impacted by the UK’s departure from the European Union. It has been organised by Tim Brennan, a once-touring freelance video tech who authored the original petition calling for visa-free musician and crew passports post-Brexit – which received over 280,000 signatures but was rejected by the government, who continued to blame for the European Union for the situation.

“We’re no wiser now than we were in January,” Brennan told NME. “I think there are things afoot and forms of discussion between industry bodies and the government, but I don’t really feel like there have been any major steps forward with regards to the EU. Every time we ask for progress, it’s just like a broken record. It doesn’t inspire me.

“Time is marching on. It’s fine to sit and discuss this, but if it wasn’t for the COVID nightmare we wouldn’t have been able to do any work anyway. We still don’t know what we’re doing.”

Brennan added: “The big artists will have a massive entourage who will sort all of the mess out for them and one way or another, they’ll do it. It’s the little guys and the new bands who still stand to lose out on so much. When it comes to carnets, visas, work permits and everything else, there just doesn’t seem to be any form of clarity from the government in telling us what is actually going on. The government put a website out and all it really says is, ‘If you’re going to do this then you’d better check that everything’s OK’.”

Speaking of this week’s summit, Brennan said that the main aim was to “raise public awareness that this issue is still here and needs sorting out”.

“It’s a public-facing event to demonstrate the widespread support for the campaign and call upon the government to make an exception,” he said. “With things starting to open up and bands trying to book tours, then we’re going to start losing out on shows for bands and work for crews with a quick resolution from the government. Touring as we’ve known it isn’t possible any more.”

When questioned by MPs in February, Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage was criticised for the government’s lack of action in failing to renegotiate terms for future touring with EU member states or for measuring the potential damage that Brexit could have on the UK’s £111billion cultural industries or £5.2billion music industry. The government was also accused of treating the sector like “an afterthought” in Brexit negotiations compared to the £1.2billion fishing industry.

Responding to the latest criticisms, a government spokesperson from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport claimed that they “had always been clear that the end of freedom of movement would have implications for professional mobility”.

“However, short-term, temporary visits for paid performances by UK musicians are possible in at least 17 EU countries, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, without needing visas or work permits. Specific requirements vary from country to country and it’s important to check Member States’ rules before travelling,” a spokesperson told NME.

“Alongside new guidance for musicians, we are continuing to work closely with countries across the EU to see what further support we can provide for the sector.”

Brexit tour summit

However, Brennan last week hit back at the government’s statement about touring in these 17 member states – arguing that the claim was “misleading“.

“There are differential access rules and a requirement for work permits beyond allowances in those countries in terms of duration – which range from seven days in any one year to 90 days in Germany and France,” said Brennan.

“The government must recognise the highly difficult landscape we have to navigate – even within those countries with some allowance.”

The message added: “Carry On Touring are calling on Oliver Dowden to give creative touring professionals some urgent clarity and certainty to make swift progress towards resolution.

“Our ask for a Cultural Passport (a VISA waiver agreement and Schengen-wide work permit with free access) remains unchanged.”

This comes after the House Of Lords urged the government to seek “reciprocal” touring agreement with the EU, while Labour MP Harriet Harman also recently suggested 10-point plan for touring post-Brexit.

A controversial issue throughout the continent, European festival promoters have said that they could be likely to book fewer UK acts as a result of Brexit, while figures from the UK music industry have expressed concern that the impact of the deal on musicians who might not be able to tour Europe could also potentially prevent them from acquiring a visa to play in the United States. Bookers in Europe have told NME that “the effort should come from the UK” to overcome this.

#CarryOnTouring’s We Can Work It Out Day Of Action is set to take place on Thursday May 20 between 2pm-4pm BST. Those wanting to get involved can register their attendance here, and receive further details by emailing