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Failure to secure a post-Brexit touring deal threatens careers of future music stars

Failure to secure a post-Brexit touring deal threatens careers of future music stars

The absence of a post-Brexit touring deal could blow a hole in the talent pipeline, which sees acts rise from local heroes and breakthrough artists like Arlo Parks and Celeste to the stadium-fillers of tomorrow, write Jamie Njoku-Goodwin and Tom Watson. | PA Images

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin and Tom Watson

5 min read

There is no competitive advantage to be gained by restricting touring musicians’ rights. A solution will require both the UK and the EU to come together and agree a way forward.

A huge cloud of uncertainty looms over careers of Britain’s future global stars and it’s not just the devastating impact of Covid-19.

One of the most important ways that our emerging musical talent learns their craft and builds a fanbase is by playing grassroots venues in the UK and Europe.

Europe is a crucial market for our industry – millions of people on the Continent devour work from British performers such as Adele, Ed Sheeran, Stormzy and Lewis Capaldi, and there is huge appetite for emerging talent too.

However, since leaving the EU, British musicians and their crews are no longer guaranteed visa-free travel across Europe.

Many will need to secure work permits to perform. Expensive carnets are now required to transports instruments to the EU. And complex rules mean that it will be illegal for UK trucks to make more than three stops in the EU, making multi-stop European tours impossible.

The absence of a post-Brexit touring deal threatens our strong export market and could blow a hole in the talent pipeline, which sees acts rise from local heroes and breakthrough artists like Arlo Parks and Celeste to the stadium-fillers of tomorrow.

There is a real risk that mountains of extra red tape and significant extra costs will mean touring is simply unviable for some UK acts.

Live music might be on pause because of the pandemic, but thousands of people who work in the UK music industry have not been silent about this issue.

Headline acts including Dua Lipa, Laura Marling, Biffy Clyro, KT Tunstall and Ronan Keating, have backed a 284,000-signature petition, which calls on the Government to "negotiate a free cultural work permit" to let bands, musicians, artists and those who support them behind the scenes tour the EU without the need for extra paperwork.

Sir Elton John is among the stars called for action, warning that emerging UK talent who could face a “a brick wall" of bureaucracy and added costs that could “stunt their growth and their creativity.”

That is why the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into EU visa arrangements for workers in the creative industries is incredibly welcome.

Of course, the pressure should not be on the UK government alone. A solution will require both the UK and the EU to come together and agree a way forward.

The EU has agreed reciprocal visa-waivers for cultural activity with a number of other countries – the UK should propose a similar agreement

This is eminently achievable, given there appears to be a shared political desire to protect musicians’ touring rights – both the UK and the EU say they made offers to the other side to ensure musicians could continue touring. 

Indeed, one of the most frustrating things about finding ourselves in the current situation is that there is strong cross-party and cross-continental consensus that musicians and their crews should be able to continue traveling between the UK and the EU with ease.

Political leaders from across the UK and across Europe believe we should protect the rights of touring musicians.

Our priority has been ensuring our new relationship with the EU enables the British music industry to continue to deliver the benefits for our country. We are a £5.8 billion industry that supports 200,000 jobs.

Ultimately, this is about global cultural exchange and shared political interest. British artists want to be able to tour in Europe, and European promoters want to be able to book British artists. Similarly, European musicians want to be able to perform in the UK, and Britain’s famously global live music scene wants to be able to attract global talent.

There is no competitive advantage to be gained by either the UK or the EU in restricting touring musicians’ rights. It’s a lose-lose for both sides.

As an industry, we are determined not to simply be highlighting problems. We are focused on finding workable solutions, and seek a solution that all parties in the UK will unite around.

The EU has agreed reciprocal visa-waivers for cultural activity with a number of other countries – the UK should propose a similar agreement.

European cabotage rules were never intended to impede musical touring – a cultural exemption from cabotage rules would allow the event haulage ecosystem to continue as it is.

And the government has already recognised the need to support key national industries to adjust to the new relationship with the EU, for instance with a £23 million fund for fisheries.

The same is needed for the world-leading British music industry, to help ensure we can deliver the positive economic and soft power benefits for the UK that we have done for the past decades.

As Sir Elton made clear, it is not the arena-fillers like him that this uncertainty is crippling but the talent of tomorrow – the aspiring and little-known musicians who should be household names in a few years.

To achieve their full potential and help grow our post-pandemic recovery, those musicians need to be touring Europe as their predecessors did before them.

Unless we can work out a new deal, many of these future stars will not get the chance to do so. It isn’t just their dreams that are in peril – it’s a whole generation of British musical success stories too.

 

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin is the chief executive of UK Music. Tom Watson is the chair of UK Music and former deputy leader of the Labour Party.

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