Labour MP Harriet Harman lays out plan for visa-free touring post-Brexit

Harman says the government have "cocked up" negotiations to allow British musicians to tour on the continent without visas

Labour MP Harriet Harman has today (March 16) proposed a plan to allow British musicians to tour Europe without visas post-Brexit.

Unveiling a 10-point plan of measures, which have been backed by the Musicians’ UnionUK Music and more, Harman’s plan aims to see UK musicians able to tour the continent without visas and work permits, and vice versa for European musicians hoping to play in Britain.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson‘s Brexit trade deal failed to secure visa-free travel for UK artists and their crew wishing to tour Europe (adding huge costs to future live music tours of the continent and preventing rising and developing artists from being able to afford it), prompting a row to erupt over who was responsible.


After European festival bosses said that the extra complications could see them booking fewer rising UK acts, Harman has called the government’s response on the issue a “cock up” and told the Guardian that the government have “boxed themselves into a corner” due to their actions.

Saying there is “no time to waste,” Harman said that without action, “nothing is going to happen on this [issue] except that the shutters will come down”.

Brexit protestors
Protestors demonstrate against Brexit CREDIT: Getty Images

“There’s the assumption that somehow it’s going to be perfectly all right because [musicians] always have been, and they’re so successful so they’ll be fine,” Harman added, calling for an extension to the furlough scheme for those in the music industry “in recognition of the fact that because the government hasn’t succeeded so far, people are losing a great chunk of their income”.

The MP added: “The financial necessity of [touring] being part of the business model of UK musical activity is absolutely beyond doubt. But there are also artistic issues because music thrives when there’s a cultural interchange and artists are able to collaborate. And that generates even more artistic creativity.

“I don’t think the government should be defensive,” she said, “even if the truth is that they have cocked it up. The sector just wants to sort it out and to help.”


Harman’s plan also includes plans for a “UK creative industries export office” to help support international touring plans, as previously hinted at by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, as well as the appointment of a minister to assist musicians in visa applications. “DCMS [the Department for Culture, Media and Sport] needs to be flexing its muscles and recognising the power of these sectors and the importance of public policy in them,” she said.

The body would closely resemble similar agencies in Australia and Canada, which provide advice on export logistics and strategy to artists, as well as helping them to expand into new markets and increase their exposure.

The proposed UK agency would also help artists with visa arrangements, such as those now required under the terms of the UK’s trade deal with the European Union. This is something Geoffrey Vasseur, who runs popular Berlin venue Yaam, previously suggested to NME might be the answer to artists being able to tour internationally again.

As anger continues to grow around the handling of the Brexit touring row, recent weeks have seen culture ministers questioned by MPs over how it came to this and what’s to happen next.

While admitting that there were no plans to renegotiate these terms with the EU, the government were criticised for not yet being in talks with individual countries and having no idea of the potential financial damage that Brexit could cause to the music world, as well as facing accusations of treating the UK’s £111billion culture industries as “an afterthought” and putting more onus on the £5.2billion fishing industry in the deal.

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