Brexit touring row: UK proposals not fit for purpose, says EU

UK and EU in blame game which may leave British musicians forced to pay for expensive and laborious country-specific visas and equipment carnets when touring the continent

The government’s proposals to enable British musicians to tour the EU without having to negotiate individual visa requirements for each member state were not fit for purpose, according to an EU spokesperson.

As it stands, British musicians may be forced to pay for country-specific visas and equipment carnets when touring the continent – a situation that has been decried by the British music industry as prohibitively expensive and laborious, potentially limiting its £5.8bn contribution to the economy.

The government and the EU have been blaming one another for the breakdown of negotiations regarding visa-free touring on the continent since the Independent reported on Sunday that the UK has refused to allow European acts 90 days of visa-free travel, prompting widespread condemnation, including from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, who called the government “spineless”.

On Wednesday, culture secretary Oliver Dowden sought to blame the EU for the red tape facing British touring musicians, telling NME that it had “repeatedly” turned down the government’s proposal for a “mutually beneficial agreement that would have allowed performers to continue working and perform across the continent without the need for work permits”.

But the government’s proposal would not have solved the problem of British musicians having to negotiate individual visa requirements with each member state, according to a spokesperson from the EU.

Having refused to include a chapter on mobility in the Brexit agreement, the UK government rejected the EU’s standard offer of visa-free short stays – working up to 90 days in a 180-day period – and a list of paid activity exemptions that could exclude musicians, artists, sportspeople and journalists from the requirement to seek visas to work in individual member states. This offer was incompatible with the Conservative manifesto commitment to taking back control of Britain’s borders, the government claimed.

‘Spineless’ ... Thom Yorke on the UK government’s handling of the EU touring situation.
‘Spineless’ ... Thom Yorke on the UK government’s handling of the EU touring situation. Photograph: Matteo Nardone/Pacific Press/Rex/Shutterstock

Instead, the UK attempted to negotiate the issue via the short-term business visitor category and the category for contractual service suppliers and independent professionals known as Mode 4. The World Trade Organization says Mode 4 “does not concern persons seeking access to the employment market in the host member”.

Neither category covers musicians, said the EU spokesperson. It would also be ineffective: Mode 4 discussions are neutral on the matter of visas, meaning that requirements regarding entry and temporary stay continue to apply. Even if the EU had agreed to the UK’s proposal, British musicians would still be left facing the same red tape.

DCMS said the EU’s statement was misleading. The government claimed that its proposals would have allowed musicians to travel and perform in the UK and the EU without needing work permits, and that the EU’s offer only covered ad-hoc performances and did not address technical staff or the issue of work-permits.

A DCMS spokesperson told the Guardian it stood by Dowden’s earlier comments. “I’m afraid it was the EU letting down music on both sides of the Channel – not us,” Dowden had told NME.

The EU declined the UK’s offer of 30 days’ visa-free work for EU musicians on the grounds that this is the UK’s existing standard policy and offered no added value to its members, and because it offered significantly less than the EU proposal at the mobility negotiation.

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, chief executive of UK Music, said the industry had “no interest in playing a blame game. We just want to understand what has happened and then take steps to resolve this situation. We need both sides to work with the music industry to find a solution that benefits everyone. It is vital that all sides now get around the table and agree a way forward that avoids needless red tape and bureaucracy that could put some tours in jeopardy.”

Speaking to the liaison committee on Wednesday, prime minister Boris Johnson did not appear to grasp the situation facing British touring acts, incorrectly stating that British musicians have “the right to go play in any EU country for 90 out of 180 days” – the EU proposal that the government turned down.

A petition seeking a Europe-wide, visa-free working permit for music touring professionals, bands, musicians, artists, TV and sports celebrities has reached in excess of 257,600 signatures, with backing from musicians including Dua Lipa, Biffy Clyro and Laura Marling. The lack of a resolution could rule out or severely limit EU touring, according to musicians.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Johnson said he would meet with MPs to address their concerns on the matter. “I know that our friends in the EU will be wanting to go further to improve things for not just musicians, but business travellers of all kinds,” he said. “There is a mutual benefit.”


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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