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Barriers to EU touring will cost us British influence and talent

3 min read

In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “music is the universal language of mankind”. Music transcends borders and nations. But while music will always travel freely internationally, thanks in a huge part to the wonders of modern technology, the reach of our musicians has become increasingly limited due to the current constraints of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement.

Following our exit from the European Union, things were always going to be in flux. Much of the focus in the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement was focussed on goods rather than services, so touring took a bit of a back seat.

Pre-pandemic the music industry was a huge driver of growth across the UK, worth £5.8 billion in GVA and employing almost 200,000 people. To put that into a post-Brexit context, the music industry employs more people than steel and fisheries industries combined. But, having so far not successfully negotiated deals across all 27 member states, new barriers threaten to strangle up-and-coming UK artists looking to tour the EU with a tangle of red tape. As new talent breaks through, this only damages UK music exports and the soft power this brings.

Touring is in danger of becoming too complicated, expensive and inaccessible

Europe is our most important international market. In 2019, UK artists played almost four times as many shows across the EU than they did in North America, an estimated 33,000 British jobs.

But now, touring is in danger of becoming too complicated, expensive and inaccessible. And this means not only lost livelihoods, but a gigantic impact on the world-leading British music industry. The barriers to European touring will cost us both British influence and British talent. Touring in the EU is the critical pathway for emerging artists to gain experience, build their fan base and secure income. And the government must do all it can to cultivate this talent.

This week the Secretary of State announced that musicians will no longer need visas to go on short-term tours in Spain. This is, of course, greatly welcome news, but much more remains to be done to support this crucially important industry during this moment of transition.

And then there’s the issue of cabotage. UK touring vehicles are limited to only three stops in Europe before having to return home, making tours – the majority of which start in the UK – impossible. Without multiple stops, European tours cannot take place. So, hundreds of UK suppliers employing thousands of skilled crew will no longer be able to provide their services. As a result of these new regulations, UK-based companies are now being advised by the government to move large parts of their business and register trucks in the EU to avoid the three-stop limit.

The consequences of this limitation are colossal, with smaller businesses who do not have the resources to relocate losing out on business or having to fold; larger businesses moving their business into the EU and the British economy losing income and jobs as a result. Plus increased costs for touring artists which subsequently makes touring financially unviable.

These problems are not going to go away. The government must come up with a long-term plan to remove these barriers so UK artists and crew can continue working in all EU-27 countries. We must work together and preserve our cultural assets. We have so much to offer. And we must keep that offer alive.


David Warburton is the Conservative MP for Somerton and Frome and chair of the APPG on Music. 

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