UK government publishes update on post-Brexit touring barriers, though campaigners say there have been no tangible developments


August 5, 2021

The UK government yesterday posted an update on its efforts to tackle the post-Brexit bureaucracy British artists face when they start touring Europe again one COVID restrictions start to lift. However – while any formal communication on these issues is a good thing – some music industry campaigners have criticised the new update for presenting the status quo as if it constitutes a series of positive developments.

When the post-Brexit EU/UK trade deal was published late last year it was quickly apparent that it did not include an EU-wide provision for visa free touring for British artists across Europe, despite UK ministers promising the music industry that such a provision would indeed be included. The UK then blamed the EU for blocking the provision, while the EU blamed the UK. Basically, both sides had opposed the other’s proposal in this domain.

As a result, British artists touring Europe now face different rules in each EU member state. In some countries it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference for short tours, but in other countries travel permits and equipment carnets may now be required. Meanwhile, there are other post-Brexit complications relating to VAT and the so called cabotage rules that govern the movement of people and goods around foreign countries.

Campaigners have been calling on the UK government to work with the EU itself and each EU member country to remove as many of the new post-Brexit barriers as possible, while also providing clear guidance for the music industry on what new obligations artists and crews must meet for each market. The music community has also asked for financial support to ensure any new bureaucratic obligations don’t make small and middle-scale tours commercially unviable.

In the main, ministers have acknowledged the challenges that Brexit has created for touring performers and insisted that they want to address those issues. However, the music community has been frustrated at the lack of progress in this domain. Meanwhile, Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson told Parliament that he’d make sure Brexit negotiator David Frost spearheaded the government’s efforts to address all these issues, but – when questioned by MPs – Frost basically shrugged his shoulders and said the issues were a necessary evil of the kind of Brexit Johnson’s Conservative Party wanted.

In the update yesterday, the UK government’s Department For Digital, Media, Culture & Sport insisted: “We want the UK’s fantastic performers and other creative professionals to be able to tour abroad easily”. To that end, it added, it had – albeit unsuccessfully – “tabled ambitious proposals during negotiations with the EU”, and had also more recently successfully secured the required touring provisions in a deal with those European countries that are outside the EU but inside the European Economic Area, ie Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

As for countries inside the EU, the update continued: “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. From these discussions nineteen 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”.

As for the other eight, it went on: “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”.

“We recognise challenges remain around touring, and we are continuing to work closely with the industry”, the update concluded. “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”.

UK Music boss Jamie Njoku-Goodwin welcomed the confirmation that DCMS officials and ministers are actively working on addressing these issues. “For months, UK Music has been pressuring government to resolve the EU touring crisis”, he said. “So, it is welcome that progress is starting to be made on this issue and negotiations are happening at ministerial level”.

“It’s vital that the government maintains its focus and works to remove the practical barriers currently impacting musicians who need to work across the EU – particularly in the eight member states which are requiring permits and visas, and on the EU-wide cabotage issues facing the industry”, he went on. “It’s also important government works with member states to develop clear guidance on the countries where touring is possible so that musicians and crews have a clear understanding of what the different rules are and what will be required from them. For example, what is covered by ‘short-term’?”

That call for much more clarity and detail was echoed by David Martin from the Featured Artists Coalition and the #LetTheMusicMove campaign. And while the first part of yesterday’s DCMS update implied tangible progress had already been made, Martin stressed that it merely collated in one place what the music industry already knew.

“We continue to co-operate in good faith with government and officials on the critical issue of EU touring, however the latest announcement is nothing more than we already knew”, he said. “It remains that the UK’s music industry is in a far less advantageous position now than it was pre-January”.

“Despite the spin”, he continued, “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”.

“We launched #LetTheMusicMove in June which saw thousands of artists sign up to highlight the crisis that our industry finds itself in”, he went on. “Yet, there has been no political representation in the meetings on the issues for months, let alone any signal that government is ‘straining every sinew’ to help our £6 billion sector. 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”.

Returning to the call for more clarity and detail, Martin concluded: “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”.

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