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Labour Is Pressuring The Government To Save Musicians From "Devastating" Brexit Touring Rules

5 min read

The Labour Party has issued a plea to the government to secure visa-free tour access to the European Union for UK-based musicians and artists facing a mountain of bureaucracy as a result of Brexit.

A letter to the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, shared with PoliticsHome, warns that the current arrangements will inflict a “devastating blow” on the ability of countless performers to tour the continent.

Labour highlights that post-Brexit travel barriers will have “serious direct ramifications” for UK bands and artists hoping to tour in Europe once coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

The UK’s arts industry is urging Prime Minister Boris Johnson to get back around the negotiating table with Brussels after failing to secure visa-free travel for musicians and artists as part of the post-Brexit free trade deal.Under the new rules, hauliers carrying touring equipment around the EU will be limited to just two additional stops before returning to Britain, while the amount of time a British artist can spend in an EU member state will be determined by the law of each individual country. The latter means that performers might require individual visas to visit certain EU countries, which they would have to pay for.

The letter, signed by Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves and Shadow Minister for Green and Future Transport Kerry McCarthy, warns that these new barriers “will prove devastating for an industry vital for the UK economy.”

The limit on how many stops a touring lorry can make on the continent is “a serious barrier to touring musicians who rely on UK-based hauliers to transport music equipment across the EU for tours, the majority of which will obviously extend beyond the total allowance of three stops,” it says.

“The Government needs to recognise the cultural and economic importance of this sector and understand that three stops per tour for haulage drivers servicing the events sector is simply not sustainable for both transportation and cultural industries in the UK.”

Their letter urges the government to revisit this issue with the EU and reach a new agreement, describing the reported decision to turn down Brussels’ offer on visa exemptions for performers as “deeply disappointing.”The shadow ministers say: “The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated our creative industries, but it also provides time to correct this mistake and ensure they are not further penalised by uniform restrictions on transport when public health restrictions can be eased.”

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator in Brexit trade talks with the UK, in an interview earlier this month said that the bloc had made an "ambitious" offer allowing reciprocal, visa-free access for musicians and artists on both sides of the Channel in negotiations with the UK government.

A draft text published by the EU nearly a year ago set out visa exemptions for “sportspersons or artists performing an activity on an ad-hoc basis."

However, a Downing Street spokesperson last week said the EU offer "fell short" of UK demands.

Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage shed more light on the disagreement on Tuesday, telling MPs that the EU offer would have breached the UK red line to take control of its immigration policy.

“It’s quite simple: the EU in fact made a very broad offer which would have not been compatible with the government’s manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders," she said.

The minister added that the EU offer "would not have worked" for the British industry, as it would have exempted performers but not their touring staff.

Over 100 artists, including world-famous musicians, have signed a separate letter lambasting the government's "negotiating failure" to secure visa-free travel, and warning that the UK creative industry risked being cut adrift from the government if nothing was done.

The letter published in The Times on Wednesday was signed by artists like Sir Elton John, Ed Sheeran, Peter Gabriel, and The Who's Roger Daltrey, who was a vocal campaigner for Brexit.

McCarthy, the Labour MP for Bristol East, told PoliticsHome that securing a “cultural exemption” would be vital for the music industry as live performances remerge following the pandemic.

“Venues are shut because the Government has failed to control the pandemic, musicians are facing uncertainty because the Government has failed to secure visa-free access to the EU, and now artists can't even be sure their equipment can be transported across the continent,” she said.

Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, is today holding a roundtable with figures from the music industry to discuss their concerns with the post-Brexit arrangements.

Natasha Highcroft, director of touring logistics company Transam Trucking, said transporting British performers around the EU will be a “very difficult thing to do” unless UK and EU negotiators removed the restrictions.

She warned that her company couldn’t simply relocate to the EU, as has been suggested, as that would mean leaving behind a pool of experienced British drivers that the live music industry would struggle to operate without.

“We fly drivers across Europe to double and triple drive our trucks to enable bands and productions to fit more shows and festivals in on their tours. If we take out the UK drivers, everybody will have driver shortages and shows will be put in jeopardy," she said.

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