Opposition parties hit out at government’s handling of Brexit touring row

"The government blaming the EU is predictable but it does nothing to help our creative industries"

Politicians from Labour and the Liberal Democrats have hit out at the Conservative government’s handling on the Brexit touring negotiations with the EU.

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

Last week, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden put the blame for this at the foot of the EU following reports that a “standard” proposal that would exempt performers from needing a visa to enter countries in the EU for trips under 90 days was actually turned down by the UK government. The EU then hit back, denying claims that they had rejected the UK’s “ambitious proposals”, and that in fact they offered the UK 90 days of visa-free travel but the UK responded with their own proposal of just 30 days. See more info on the different deals here.

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Now, opposition MPs have added to the chorus from artists and music industry bosses calling on the government to “take this seriously and fix it“, as fans continue to sign the 250,000-strong petition and write to their MPs calling for visa-free travel for musicians and crew to be established.

“Tory attempts to shift the blame onto the EU are just not good enough,” Labour’s Shadow Minister for Culture Alison McGovern told NME. “Ministers promised time and again that UK musicians would not face barriers to touring in Europe as a result of Brexit.

“They have let our music community down and need to fix this as soon as possible. The EU have said they are open to an arrangement so the Tories need to get on with it.”

She added: “It’s been a terrible nine months for musicians and those who work alongside them compounded by an inflexible Tory chancellor unwilling to help those whose employment does not fit his rigid mould.

“This problem isn’t insurmountable, but it takes a political will that sadly seems to be lacking.”

Brexit protestors
Protestors demonstrate against Brexit CREDIT: Getty Images

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Meanwhile, Jane Bonham Carter, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in the House of Lords, told NME that she has been meeting with the Incorporated Society of Musicians to try and “move the situation beyond the blame game”.

“The government has made a right mess of this for artists,” she said. “Having promised them that there would be no problem touring in Europe, the deal they’ve struck will hammer musicians and performers with costly permits and a mountain of paperwork. This will hit artists at an especially tough time with the COVID-19 related ban on live music but especially young and emerging artists, who may now find touring in Europe unviable.”

Carter also described the EU offer that the UK government rejected as “reasonable” and said that negotiations needed to resume to fix this problem urgently.

“The EU made an offer specifically for artists which quite reasonably wanted reciprocity for their own artists; the UK instead made a counteroffer for all business travellers – which was more difficult to agree on,” she continued. “By the way, reciprocity is good for Britain because it means no disruption to seeing our favourite foreign acts here in the UK. Just think of the damage this will do to festival line-ups and so on. The government blaming the EU is predictable but it does nothing to help our creative industries.”

She added: “The government, quite simply, needs to get back around the negotiating table and secure a better deal specifically for creative industries with paperwork-free travel in Europe for British artists and their equipment.

“I believe there is a willingness on all sides to get this done and so the quicker the blame game ends and the sooner the details are thrashed out the better. Some form of reciprocity is going to be key and the government must understand that will be good for Britain.”

CREDIT: Getty Images

At the height of the row last week, Dowden had said that “it was the EU letting down music on both sides of the Channel – not us”, before EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said that he “regretted that the British didn’t display any greater ambition”.

In a response to the recent petition, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport wrote: “During our negotiations with the EU, we sought a mutually beneficial agreement that would have allowed performers to continue performing across the continent without the need for work permits. Specifically, we proposed to capture the work done by musicians, artists and entertainers, and their accompanying staff through the list of permitted activities for short-term business visitors. This was a straightforward solution for our creative industries which would have benefited all sides.

“The EU turned down our proposals on the basis that musicians were providing a service which they viewed as necessitating a work permit and/or visa.”

They also added that they were “taking all steps we can to make the new processes as straightforward as possible for UK artists performing across the continent”.

Last week also saw music industry insiders amplify their fears that the current Brexit deal could also prevent UK artists from being able to play in the US, claiming that if talent is unable to acquire “international recognition” through the usual channel of playing neighbouring European countries with ease, then this could make them ineligible for a visa.

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