The All Party Parliamentary Group On Music yesterday demanded “urgent action” from the UK government to tackle the crisis facing British musicians and crew planning to tour Europe as a result of the Brexit shambles. The group of cross-party MPs also announced an inquiry into the costly barriers and delays performers now face as they tour Europe, and how that is impacting on the music community, and especially emerging talent.
When the UK government published its last-minute post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union at the very end of 2020, it was clear that there were no provisions in place to ensure British musicians and crew could tour Europe without any new visa, permit or carnet requirements, despite the music community having been assured by the Brexiters in government that such provisions would be in there.
This means that as musicians and crew tour the European Union they are subject to different rules in different countries. In some cases that doesn’t make a huge difference, but in others there is new bureaucracy to navigate, which results in new delays and costs. For many artists, whose tours operate on tight profit margins, that extra bureaucracy makes touring activity unviable.
The government initially blamed the EU for the lack of touring provisions in the deal. Then ministers started to concede that this was a big problem that needed tackling. Then Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson told Parliament in March that he was “passionate” about solving this problem, which is when the music community knew it was really fucked.
The PM also said that the government was working “flat out” to negotiate deals with individual EU countries where Brexit had created new bureaucracy for touring artists, and that Brexit negotiator David Frost was leading the charge.
Then, of course, fuck all happened. Well, the government started publishing statements about the EU countries where there wasn’t any new post-Brexit bureaucracy to navigate, presenting those as if they were somehow wins.
And Frost basically told Parliament’s culture select committee – who he eventually agreed to meet – that it wasn’t really his problem. And that signing up to the EU’s proposals that would have allowed performers to keep touring Europe hassle free would have been contrary to the fuck-the-foreigners agenda via which Johnson rose to power.
An agenda which was fully and passionately embraced by, well, 26.5% of the UK population in the 2016 EU referendum and 21% of the population in the 2019 general election.
Now it’s November and the handy six month buffer created by the COVID-caused shutdown of touring is over. And yet, well, here we are. Everything is still fucked. Hence the letter from the APPG On Music to Johnson.
“At a meeting of the APPG On Music that I chaired last week”, writes David Warburton MP, “it was made clear to me that, while clarifications issued by the Department For Digital, Culture, Media And Sport confirming the general principal of visa free working in 20 EU countries were welcome, there are still barriers and not enough clarity for musicians looking to tour the EU, particular emerging artists”.
Noting the economic and cultural impact of the UK music industry – and Johnson’s commitment to address these problems in March – the letter asks the PM to urgently commit to three things.
First, “practical unilateral steps to improve the situation, like creating a bespoke music export office to support UK artists looking to play abroad”. Then to “intensify bilateral negotiations with states like Spain that bar work permit free touring”. And finally “look to forge an EU level agreement exempting cultural tours from the red tape designed to cover other areas of activity like haulage and formal immigration”.
Commenting on the letter yesterday, Warburton added: “Musicians and crew are facing an enormous and grave problem when it comes to touring the EU that is not going to go away. Our cross-party group has written to the Prime Minister to ask him to take urgent action to clear these visa and travel barriers that threaten the success of the UK music industry, particularly emerging artists. We need the government to ramp up negotiations with nations like Spain where costly visas are still in place and to look for swift solutions to both the visa and transport issues facing musicians and crew”.
As part of their inquiry into the impact of the post-Brexit bureaucracy, MPs want to hear from musicians and people across the music industry. Of particular interest is the specific impact of visa, permit and carnet requirements and cabotage rules, plus the effect of all this on the music industry in general and emerging talent in particular. MPs are also interested in hearing about possible solutions.
Another member of the APPG who has spoken out on this issue before is Harriet Harman MP, who welcomed the inquiry, stating: “This is a very important initiative. There is deep recognition from all parties in the House Of Commons of the importance of music to the cultural and economic life of the UK, and of the jeopardy caused by restrictions on UK musicians touring in the EU. Livelihoods and careers are at risk and musicians need action from government now. This inquiry is an opportunity to present government with an ultimatum that they must sort this out”.
Also welcoming both the letter and the inquiry was Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, boss of cross-sector lobbying group UK Music. “This is a hugely welcome move by MPs from across the political divide who are as keen as we are to overcome the barriers facing musicians and crew touring the EU”, he stated yesterday. “The extra costs and red tape mean some artists are losing work and some tours, particularly those by emerging musicians, are not viable at the moment. We need urgent government action to break down the barriers facing musicians and crew including a transitional support package of financial aid and further steps to encourage exports”.
It remains to be seen to what extent the APPG’s campaigning and inquiry helps. Though, of course, we all know that if you really want to get any action from Johnson’s government the best way is to bung a load of cash to one of the PM’s best buds in Westminster. I can’t help thinking that might be a quicker solution.
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