UK government accused of ‘misleading’ musicians over EU visas and Brexit arrangements

5 August 2021, 18:02

Orchestral musicians
Orchestral musicians. Picture: Alamy

By Kyle Macdonald

The music industry claims nothing has changed for touring performers, following an ‘unclear’ announcement.

Music industry bodies have reacted with confusion and frustration to a new government announcement about touring in the European Union.

Since Brexit, and the UK leaving the EU, there has been no formal agreement for visa-free tours for musicians, leaving individuals with the crippling impact of fees, paperwork, red tape and visas, to a level that makes many tours unviable.

For months, the UK government has said it has been attempting to negotiate with the EU for visa-free travel for musicians and artists.

Read more: ‘I’ve lost £40,000 already’ – survey finds Brexit red tape is crippling touring musicians

Yesterday in a tweet, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport made an announcement which appeared to be a major breakthrough in negotiations and would allow musicians to tour large parts of the EU visa-free once again.

However in the hours that followed, industry bodies sounded doubt about the scale of the breakthrough, or whether there was anything new to it at all.

“Nothing has changed,” some claimed.

It was noted that the announcement seemed to make no mention of crew, drivers, carnets, or fees for moving equipment, all essential parts of music and touring.

In a phone call to Classic FM, a spokesperson said that DCMS is still pursuing discussions with other member states, and that the length of short-term tours “varies from country to country”.

Horace Trubridge, general secretary for the Musicians’ Union, told The Independent that Wednesday’s announcement contained “nothing new,” and was simply replicated lists drawn up by industry bodies as long ago as January.

In a statement, the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) said they had written to the Secretary of State for DCMS, Oliver Dowden, challenging him to clarify what kinds of work are allowed visa and permit-free in each of the countries.

The society also said that they have received legal advice from a leading QC that shows the current visa impasse “is due to a lack of political will, rather than any practical or legal barriers.”

‘Musicians deserve better than misleading statements’

Deborah Annetts Chief Executive of the ISM accused the government of “misleading” touring musicians.

“Our touring musicians deserve better than misleading statements from Government, when many have serious concerns for their future careers and livelihoods,” she said.

Annetts said the ISM believes that pursuing a Visa Waiver Agreement with the EU is part of the solution. This will enable artists to tour in Europe with ease once more, she says, a vital part in many musicians making a living.

In a statement, the Musicians’ Union echoed the sense of confusion around the substance of the announcement. In a statement, the body said it was unsure if the news contained new information.

The MU said there remain a number of very significant, outstanding issues and this announcement fails to account for many of the problems currently facing musicians touring in the EU.

“It remains unclear as to whether this is a result of recent negotiations or simply a clarification of measures that have been in place for some time,” Trubridge said.

He went on to say: “The MU has been pushing the government to negotiate with member states to avoid the need for work permits and remove the barriers that currently exist around cabotage, customs and transport. Whilst this progress is welcome, there is still a lot of work to be done.”

As the music and creative industries return to normal activities after COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions, there are fears that these visa and travel complications and restrictions could further impact organisations and individuals.

“The devastating impact of this for our sector is already being seen,” say the ISM, pointing to the National Theatre shelving plans to tour in Europe due to Brexit related costs.

“The government risk doing further serious harm to an industry which generates £116bn towards the UK economy annually.”