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Post-Brexit Touring Rules Threaten An "Extraordinary Crisis" For Musicians And Creative Industries, Government Warned

4 min read

Leading figures from the UK creative industries have pleaded with the government to negotiate new post-Brexit rules for touring musicians and performers who fear their livelihoods could collapse.

They warn that live events companies were on the brink of going under and some British artists were planning to quit their professions altogether.

Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, Deborah Annetts, told MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday morning that touring artists faced an “extraordinary crisis” due to costly new barriers to performing in the European Union.

The government has been warned about the “devastating impact” of the new arrangements, which from 1 January have meant British artists and their touring staff need work permits to visit individual EU member states. Hauliers carrying their equipment around the continent are limited to just three stops.

Annetts told MPs it would cost artists thousands of pounds to tour Europe as a result of the barriers brought about by Brexit.

“The costs are absolutely huge. £600 for a one night gig in Spain, £500 for Italy,” she said.

“I have been inundated with personal testimony from musicians as to the work that they have lost or are going to lose in Europe as a result of the new visa and work permit arrangements.

“Some of them are really quite heart-rending with musicians saying they are thinking of giving up music altogether”.

The new costs and red tape would fall hardest on new and up-and-coming bands which will not have the money to fund these shows, Annetts warned.

She told the committee that UK musicians and hauliers were already losing work in the EU planned for the later in the year when European governments are expected to re-open their economies.

“With music, tours are programmed some time in advance. Usually six months, a year, etc. We already seeing the impact now with cancel engagements and people losing work,” she said.

“We are also hearing that some of the touring hauliers that are based in the UK are facing imminent insolvency”.

She warned ministers that they had a window of opportunity of around four months to return to the negotiating table with Brussels and secure visa-free travel for the UK’s creative industries.

“Musicians are already asking in quite desperate terms whether they have a career left or whether they’re going to have retrain in some other capacity”.

Annetts accused the Home Office and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) of not fully understanding the creative industries and the issues facing them.

She singled out BEIS for the harshest criticism, describing the department as "incompetent" and its work on the creative industries as "not of a high enough standard when people’s livelihoods are dependent" on it.Award-winning lighting designer Paule Constable said the UK’s theatre industry was “already in big trouble” due to the pandemic and that “the damage will become deeper” as performers begin to encounter the new barriers to touring in Europe later in the year.

She told MPs on the committee that the National Theatre “can’t tour in Europe anymore” due to the new travel restrictions on their casts and crews.

“That’s a major and global phenomenon and we cannot deliver that anymore. That’s not a teething problem. That’s something we are living with”.

MPs also heard from Lyndsay Duthie, Chief Executive of the Production Guild of Great Britain, who said it was taking UK TV and film producers several months to secure visas to work in the EU.

“It is being felt now. We are of course trying to mitigate and find ways around it, but there are huge delays,” she said.

In the same committee session, committee chair Julian Knight accused the government of subjecting UK creative industries to a "no-deal Brexit" and asked DCMS minister Caroline Dineage why Boris Johnson and his negotiating team hadn't treated the issue as a bigger priority.

Dineage repeated the government's contested claim that what the EU offered in Brexit trade negotiations on visa exemptions for touring performers wouldn't have worked for the UK industry. 

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator in talks with the UK, in an interview last month said the bloc made an "ambitious" offer allowing reciprocal, visa-free access for musicians and artists on both sides of the Channel in negotiations over the free trade agreement signed in December.

DCMS official Alastair Jones revealed that the government had not yet opened talks with individual EU countries about securing more favourable work permit arrangements for UK artists. Those bilateral talks would begin "very shortly" and possibly in the next two weeks, he told MPs.

Labour last month wrote to the government urging it to open negotiations with the EU to secure visa-access for the UK's touring performers and "correct the mistake" it made.

Over 100 artists, including Sir Elton John, Ed Sheran, and Peter Gabriel, last month signed a letter lambasting the government's "negotiating failure" to secure visa-free travel.

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