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Exclusive: Music Industry Has Seen No Evidence Of Government Talks With EU Over Post-Brexit Touring

4 min read

Music industry figures say they are yet to see any proof of negotiations with European Union countries on post-Brexit touring, or any details about those talks, despite government promises to the contrary.

Boris Johnson told MPs that officials were working "flat out" and having "plenty of conversations" with European counterparts during a Liaison Committee yesterday.

The Prime Minister claimed that Cabinet Office Minister David Frost was overseeing bilateral talks with individual EU countries as part of efforts to remove cumbersome barriers to UK performers touring in Europe. 

The new rules for musicians, actors and other performers, which the industry has warned will make some European touring impossible, mean they and their crews must secure work permits and other costly documentation to work in some EU member states. They also mean hauliers which carry their equipment are now limited to just three stops in the bloc before returning to the UK.

The industry is urging ministers to negotiate away these barriers before live performances return on the continent later in the year, when lockdown measures are expected to be lifted.

Johnson yesterday said "I totally share the frustration of the sector" and "we must get it totally sorted out," describing the creative industries as a "massively important part of our economy".

The Prime Minister suggested the UK had already held talks with several EU countries.

"Some of them are much, much better and forward-leaning than others. Some of them it's been absolutely fine, with others we have still got progress to make," he told MPs.

"We are working flat out bilaterally with each individual government".

However, several figures from music organisations which are in contact with the government told PoliticsHome they had not yet received any information from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) about those negotiations and the countries invovled.

"There is no evidence of any bilateral negotiations. We haven't had any evidence or reassurance up to now," Naomi Pohl, General Secretary of the Musicians' Union (MU), told PoliticsHome.

"What the Prime Minister said yesterday was really encouraging and I really hope the government has an appetite to address it. But we have had nothing solid from them so far on which countries they have actually spoken to and we haven't had a single progress report.

"The MU and UK Music will be following up with DCMS Secretary of State Oliver Dowden as a matter of urgency following the Prime Minister’s comments".

The industry is urging the government to provide an update on the state of negotiations amid warnings that event organisers will soon need to begin making bookings for later in the year.

The industry is particularly concerned about Spain, Portugal, Croatia and Bulgaria. British performers are set to need permits or visas to work in all four when international touring resumes.

Alison McGovern, Labour’s Shadow Culture Minister told PoliticsHome: “Musicians and other creative workers across the UK cannot get on with their jobs due to Brexit red tape.

"The Government were warned about the problems and have had plenty of time to get on with it. They owe the creative industries an update at the very least".There was no agreement for touring performers in the UK-EU trade deal struck in December, with both sides blaming each other for the lack of protection for the industry in the treaty. 

It is not just up-and-coming performers who are set to be impacted by the post-Brexit barriers.

The National Theatre last month told PoliticsHome it had shelved plans to tour The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time around Europe after the pandemic due to the cost of the new rules, while New Order's manager warned the iconic band might be forced to skip the continent.

A government spokesperson said: "We’ve always been clear that the end of freedom of movement would have implications for professional mobility. However we're working across government and with industry, including through a DCMS-led working group, on plans to support cultural and creative professionals who temporarily work in the EU.

"The working group will provide new guidance to help artists understand what's required in different countries. We will also be engaging with Member States on the issue and looking carefully at proposals for a new Export Office that could provide further practical help".

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