Government accused of “spin” and “meaningless posturing” for latest Brexit touring claims

The government had presented it as good news that UK artists were able to tour without visas in 19 EU member states – but that's not the full picture

Figures from the music industry have hit back at the government’s recent claims of victory in securing visa-free touring for UK artists in 19 EU member states – accusing them of “spin” and “meaningless posturing”.

There have been seven months of very loud criticism from across the music industry after the government jeopardised the future of touring for UK artists when the Brexit deal secured with the EU failed to negotiate visa-free travel and Europe-wide work permits for musicians and crew.

The government then announced yesterday (Wednesday August 4) that “short term” visa-free travel without work permits will be allowed for musicians and performers in 19 European countries, while talks are ongoing with the remaining nations.

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However, the music industry are angry at their attitude – arguing that much more still needs to be done. Ian Smith from ukeartswork and the #CarryOnTouring campaign said that the government’s statement was misleading at best and in places “badly wrong”.

“Yes, we have visa and permit free work in 19 countries – however what has not been said is that those free periods range from seven days in any one year to 14-30 days to 90 days, all with different reporting requirements,” he told NME. “This means reporting said work to either the border police or local authorities prior to entering to work.

He continued: “I am tired of the spin, and also to be frank this does not help given that there is no visa waiver to eliminate the substantial problem of the 90 in 180 day non-visa nationals rule which all British citizens have to abide by if not legally resident in an EU state and who are beneficiaries of the withdrawal agreement.

“In fact when taking into consideration the absolute fact that each individual will have used varying amounts of allowance in different jobs, bands or leisure time – all of which are deductible from the 90 in 180 day allowance in being able to enter Schengen makes this far from easy.”

He added: “Let’s get real! With the visa waiver agreement negotiated, and then very urgent action generally, our creative arts and all those that support said great arts are being greatly stymied by this total failure.

“Let’s make this ultra clear: the UK government have not created any positive change by ‘engaging’ with individual EU states. They have merely been told the truth of what it means to be a third country non-visa national. Regardless of who said what way back during the negotiations, we need action now and continued action at that!”

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“Now we need one thing – for the UK government to actually engage actively with the EU for solutions not meaningless posturing.”

France
Rock En Seine Festival in Paris, France. Credit: David Wolff Patrick/Redferns.

This summer saw the launch of the #LetTheMusicMove campaign, with the likes of Wolf AliceIDLESPoppy Ajudha and Radiohead among the 200 artists calling upon the UK government to urgently take action to resolve the ‘No Deal’ that has landed upon British music – while Elton John went as far as to call the government “philistines” for their approach. The Tory government’s attitude was summarised by campaigners as “sacrificing a £6billion sector and its workers for Brexit and anti-free movement zealotry”.

Annabella Coldrick is Chief Executive of the Music Managers Forum and the #LetTheMusicMove campaign, and told NME that “visas and work permits are only the tip of the iceberg”.

“Music has effectively undergone a no-deal Brexit which is a disaster for European touring,” said Coldrick. “The Government present it as a positive that we only need work permits in eight out of 27 EU states, omitting to mention the requirement to obtain ‘carnets’, the insane ban on UK vehicles doing more than three stops on an EU tour and splitter vans being illegal under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.”

She continued: #LetTheMusicMove is calling for an immediate transition package to support tours to go ahead until these issues are fully resolved. Brexit on top of COVID is a disaster for artists ability to play live and we have been abandoned by our government.”

Greg Parmley, CEO of the industry group LIVE, agreed that the government had not presented the full picture.

“While we are grateful for the Government for clarifying the pre-existing arrangements on travel to a number of EU countries – something that we as an industry have been untangling ourselves for some time now – there is nothing new in their latest announcement and we are still some way from visa-free travel in the EU,” he said.

“There are no new ‘frictionless’ agreements and in reality, this is only a very small piece in a much bigger touring puzzle, and substantial financial and bureaucratic barriers remain that disproportionately disadvantage smaller and emerging artists. We fully support the Government’s ongoing negotiations, but until then they must introduce a Transitional Support Package, to safeguard the future of the live music industry while we wait for their ‘ambitious proposals’ to be realised.”

Arctic Monkeys
Arctic Monkeys performing at Melkweg (The Max), Amsterdam in 2006 (Picture: Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Featured Artists Coalition CEO David Martin was less than enthused by the announcement – arguing that it is “nothing more than we already knew”.

“It remains that the UK’s music industry is in a far less advantageous position now than it was pre-January,” Martin told NME. “Despite the spin, this statement represents an admission of failure. Failure to fulfil the promises made by Government about securing our industry’s future during negotiations, failure to ‘fix’ the issue, as per the PM’s statement of March this year, and failure to provide certainty around touring in almost a third of EU countries, eight months after the music industry was dealt a ‘No Deal’ scenario.”

He also claimed that there has been “no political representation in the #LetTheMusicMove meetings on the issues for months – let alone any signal that Government is “straining every sinew” to help our £6billion sector”.

Martin continued: “If there is a serious intention to fix the problems created by the Government’s failure in negotiations, they must start by being honest with our sector and the public about the current status regarding EU touring. As a start, Government must publish full details on a country-by-country basis, outlining the exact requirements for touring performers and crew across all 27 member states.”

On their latest claims, a DCMS spokesperson told NME: “We have worked at pace to ensure that performers and other creative professionals are able to tour abroad easily and have confirmed visa-free entry for short-term tours in 19 EU Member States, including France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

“We are now working with the remaining countries to encourage them to match the UK’s generous arrangements, which allow creative professionals to tour here easily.”

Carnets for non-portable instruments will still be required, whereby artists and crews have to fill in laborious paperwork for all of their instruments and equipment upon entering and leaving an EU member state. It has been argued that smaller acts will not be able to afford the manpower to do so, and that this will provide huge logistical problems for less established artists.

NME has also asked for clarity on what these 19 agreements mean for support staff and roadies, after figures from the UK’s live music industry warned that a “massive” amount of jobs and taxable income will be lost to the EU under the current Brexit deal, due to it making touring “nigh on impossible” for road crew. Cabotage rules currently mean that trucks travelling from the UK are only allowed to make one stop in an EU state before having just seven days to make a maximum of two more before returning home.

This all comes after predictions that new rules and red tape would lead to musicians and crew facing huge costs to future live music tours of the continent – which could create a glass ceiling that prevents rising and developing talent from being able to afford to do so. Amid months of inaction, the government has often been accused of treating the £6billion music sector like “an afterthought” in Brexit negotiations, compared to the £1.2billion fishing industry.

A recent poll found  that the majority of UK voters wanted the government to be doing more to solve the post-Brexit touring fiasco for musicians and crew, after over 280,000 people signed a petition calling for visa-free touring through the EU to be established for artists and crew.

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