Visa-free touring granted for UK artists in 19 EU countries – while industry demands “honesty” from government

Music industry critics meanwhile, argue that the government have "failed to fix the real issue"

The UK government has announced that visa-free touring has been negotiated for UK artists in 19 EU member countries – while music industry critics have accused them of “failing to fix the real issues”.

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.

This came with fears and 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.

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Now, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport have announced that visa-free travel will be allowed for musicians and performers in 19 European countries, while talks are ongoing with the remaining nations.

“We, as government, have spoken to every EU Member State about the issues facing our creative and cultural industries when looking to tour in Europe,” a DCMS spokesperson said. “From these discussions 19 Member States have confirmed UK musicians and performers do not need visas or work permits for short-term tours. These countries are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Sweden.”

They continued: “We are now actively engaging with the remaining EU Member States that do not allow visa and permit free touring, and calling on them to align their arrangements with the UK’s generous rules, which allow touring performers and support staff to come to the UK for up to three months without a visa.

“Formal approaches via officials and DCMS Ministers have been made to Spain, Croatia, Greece, Portugal, Bulgaria, Romania, Malta and Cyprus. We are also working with the sector to amplify each other’s lobbying efforts.”

The government added that they “recognise challenges remain around touring” and that they were “continuing to work closely with the industry.”

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“We want to ensure that when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, touring can resume and our world-leading creative and cultural artists can continue to travel widely, learning their craft, growing their audiences and showing the best of British creativity to the world,” they claimed.

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 on January 22, 2010 in Berlin, Germany.(Photo by Jakubaszek/Getty Images)

However, 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.”

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”.

Today, Martin claims 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”.

He 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.”

Meanwhile, General Secretary of the Musicians Union Horace Trubridge told NME: “We welcome this news and the ongoing talks with the other eight EU member states. What we urgently need now is some movement on the cabotage and transport issues particularly in relation to splitter vans.”

It remains unclear what the situation is with regards to carnets, 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.

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.

This is a developing story.

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