Culture Secretary mocked over “ambitious” visa-free touring agreement with Liechtenstein


June 7, 2021

UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has boasted that an “ambitious approach” to post-Brexit trade deal negotiations has secured visa-free access for British musicians looking to tour in Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Tweeting on Friday, Dowden wrote: “We’ve always taken an ambitious approach in negotiations on touring artists, including in my meeting with [Norwegian Culture minister] Abid Raja last month. Delighted that our new trade deal with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein will allow musicians, performers and support crews to tour easily there”.

That commitment to adopting an “ambitious approach in negotiations on touring artists” obviously ignores the time the UK promised repeatedly that it would secure visa-free touring in its post-Brexit trade deal with the EU and then didn’t. As a result, UK artists are now facing a future where touring across Europe is not financially viable, cutting off a major source of income. Still, Liechtenstein!

Responding to Dowden on Twitter, UK Music chief exec Jamie Njoku-Goodwin welcomed the new deal with three countries which are not part of the EU, but are in the European Economic Area, adding that “if it can be done for these EEA members then a similar accommodation CAN be reached with EU members. [It is] vital that government and EU member states urgently reach agreements that allow musicians and crews to work and tour across the EU”.

However, in the main, the artist community didn’t see Dowden’s trade deal bragging as a reason for celebration or optimism. The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess tweeted: “Iceland’s population is roughly the same as Wigan. Liechtenstein has a similar number of residents as Wilmslow (in Cheshire). If it wasn’t tragic it would be funny”.

“The Charlatans have played all over the globe for 31 years and we’ve had three number one albums”, he added. “However, Oliver Dowden, we have never played in Iceland or Liechtenstein due to sheer expense/very small populations there and few venues or promoters. But thanks for your help”.

In more concise responses, Suede’s Mat Osman called Dowden’s efforts “utterly pathetic”, Blur’s Dave Rowntree called him a “Twat”, and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow went with “arse hat”.

Primal Scream’s Simone Marie also pointed out that Liechtenstein doesn’t have an airport. That’s perhaps understandable, given that it has a population of less than 39,000 people. Still, it is a significant issue for anyone hoping to head out on a major tour of the country. The nearest airport is 80 miles away in Zurich, Switzerland.

While British artists don’t need visas to enter Switzerland, they may have to pay for a carnet in order to transport instruments and other equipment into the country, and may incur other costs as they move between Switzerland and Liechtenstein. So, while it might be nice to know that you can tour Liechtenstein, the chances that anyone will remain slim. But maybe that’s because you pesky musicians just aren’t as ambitious as the UK government.

Meanwhile, there are hints that as pandemic restrictions lift, it may not just be UK artists wishing to tour Europe who will have a hard time.

Speaking to the Live From Nerdville podcast, Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford claimed that Brexit was hampering plans for rescheduling his band’s postponed European tour. “There’s [an] interesting thing about going to Europe now because of Brexit”, he said. “It’s so much harder to get work visas because of that. That’s gonna be a whole other nightmare”.

He didn’t got into the specifics, but lots of American artists have traditionally worked with UK crew and such like on European touring activity, relying on that crew being able to move around Europe without any bureaucratic hassles. So maybe that’s the issue.

Of course, it’s easy to hone in on all the problems British – and other – artists are now facing as they tour Europe and then fail to balance it with all the many benefits delivered by Brexit. Such as… erm… the smell of rotting fish?

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