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Elton John's Agent Accuses No.10 Of Blocking Progress On Post-Brexit European Touring

Elton John

5 min read

A leading music promoter who is pushing the government to renegotiate post-Brexit arrangements for the UK's touring performers says there is a refusal to do so at "the highest level," pointing the finger of blame at Downing Street.

Craig Stanley, who organises tours for Sir Elton John, Celine Dion and Cher, among others, has told PoliticsHome that while government officials understood the new obstacles to touring in Europe, and were keen to remove them with the EU, there was "no evidence" that they had been asked to do so by government ministers.

Stanley has been integral to recent conversations with government on post-Brexit touring, including with Cabinet Office Minister Lord Frost, who oversees the UK's relationship with the European Union on touring arrangements for UK artists in Europe.

A war of words recently broke out between Frost and Sir Elton after the singer warned that "gaping holes" in the Brexit deal risked costing the UK music industry a "generation of talent". Frost retaliated by telling the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee that the multi-awarded winning artist enjoyed his first hits before the UK joined the EU. 

“The government is now well-aware of the issues and understand them due to our collective and extensive lobbying," said Stanley, who also chairs the touring group for LIVE (Live Music Industry Venues & Entertainment.)

"But I do not get a strong sense that they are — at the highest level — completely committed to finding solutions in the near future."

He added: "The officials we met are very supportive and understand the intricacies of the problem.

"But there's no evidence we've had that they actually have been given the authority to actually push ahead with detailed negotiations [with the EU.]”

Stanley said there had been particular frustration among creative industry figures recently because Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) minister Caroline Dinenage had not attended the last three meetings of the Working Group set up to focus on post-Brexit touring.

“It is a frustration that the minister isn't present," Stanley said. "Her officials are reporting back to her, but it is very hard to get progress if the minister herself is not there.”

DCMS confirmed Dinenage had attended several — not all — of the six meetings that had taken place since the Working Group made up of government officials and industry figures was established, but said that the minister was not supposed to attend all of them.

A DCMS spokesperson told PoliticsHome: "We want performers and other creative professionals to be able to tour abroad easily.

"Musicians and performers do not require visas or work permits for short-term tours in at least 18 EU Member States, including France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

"We are working closely with those individual member states that do require visas or work permits for short-term tours to encourage them to adopt a more flexible approach, in line with the UK’s own rules which allow creative professionals to tour easily here.”

As a result of the UK's new trade relationship with the EU, performers and crew members who want to tour the bloc now face new costs and red tape, which the industry has warned will hit young and upcoming artists the hardest and force many to abandon their careers.

The UK and EU failed to include a visa-free mobility agreement in their post-Brexit trade deal, with both sides repeatedly blaming each other for it. 

Those planning to tour in the EU now must pay for visas and work permits to play in some countries — including Spain, which is a major concern for the UK industry — and lorries are limited to just three stops on the continent in the space of a week before having to return to the UK.

The government stresses that performers and crew are able to make short-stay trips to around two-thirds of EU countries without the need for a visa or work permit, and that bilateral talks are ongoing with the remaining member states.

However, Stanley made the point that short stays do not help touring artists like stage actors, who often spend several weeks in just one place when performing across Europe.

“It doesn't help the theatre industry," he told PoliticsHome. "The National Theatre will spend several weeks in one city performing Warhorse, like six weeks just in Stockholm."

Stanley warned that the impact of the new red tape facing the UK's touring performers was being "masked" by the pandemic, with the live music industry dormant across Europe and international touring not expected to restart for many months.

"The major issue will come towards spring of next year when the concert season really gets going, particularly outdoor shows and festivals," he said. "That is when the large share of tours will be going into Europe and artists performing in Europe.”

Alison McGovern, Labour's Shadow Minister for Culture & Sport, told PoliticsHome: "The government has failed to listen to creative professionals in every part of our country and with every kind of talent who say that the post Brexit rules stop them working.

"This is a catastrophe for successful British industries like music and fashion. Action is required, but those I speak to have little faith it will ever happen with the Tories in charge of the UK."

Labour MP Paul Blomfield, the former shadow Brexit minister, urged the government to return to the negotiating table with the EU and "deliver a workable solution". 

“The Government cannot claim to be in pursuit of Global Britain while it restricts our cultural and artistic exports," he said.

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