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Kevin Brennan: Government must do more to remove barriers facing musicians and crew touring the EU

Kevin Brennan: Government must do more to remove barriers facing musicians and crew touring the EU
4 min read

When it comes to music, the United Kingdom is simply the best. Our touring musicians and their crew fill venues large and small across the world. They helped generate £2.9 billion in UK exports pre-pandemic.

Travel across the globe and you will hear British music being played in bars, cafes and clubs. Music is right at the forefront of the UK’s international influence and soft power. So you would think that ensuring our musicians and crew can tour freely in our own European cultural backyard would be a top priority for the UK government.

We all thought it was. In early 2020, the then minister for creative industries Nigel Adams said in the Commons: “Touring is the lifeblood of the industry… it is essential that free movement is protected for artists post 2020.

However, the reality in 2022 is very different. Extra costs and red tape are making touring the EU simply unviable for some of our best emerging talents. 

UK music workers are 'facing more costs, more complications and getting fewer opportunities' since the UK left the EU

The APPG on Music, which I chair, has held an inquiry into all this. Our report, “Let the Music Move - A New Deal for Touring” is published today. 

Among those who gave evidence to our inquiry were Sir Elton John and promoter Harvey Goldsmith.  In a statement read to the inquiry, Sir Elton warned that less established UK artists risked “being stuck in Dover”, and that the industry faced long term damage if the situation was not resolved.

This report, from a cross-party group of more than 100 MPs and peers, outlines the urgent action the government should take to help UK musicians and crew tour Europe more easily. It says that UK music workers are “facing more costs, more complications and getting fewer opportunities” since the UK left the EU at the end of January 2020. 

The key issues include complex post-Brexit restrictions on short-term working in the EU for UK music workers, and the inability to use UK trucks for British musicians touring Europe. There is a real risk that irreparable damage will be caused to the talent pipeline on which the UK music industry relies without urgent government action to tear down the barriers to touring the EU. 

Our report makes a number of recommendations to the government to help remove these barriers and aid the music industry’s post-Covid recovery. These include the appointment of a “touring tsar” to co-ordinate the response of government and other stakeholders to the issues facing touring cultural workers. This needs to be a minister in government with the leverage to bring ministers and departments together to clear away the remaining obstacles to seamless touring across the EU.

Instead of a harmonious and well-orchestrated effort across government, musicians have faced a discordant and confusing cacophony of regulation and red tape. We need a conductor to get everyone playing together from the same score.

 

We also want to see the creation of a Transitional Support Fund to help UK music exporters deal with increased costs of trading in Europe post-Brexit, as well as the establishment of a new Music Exports Office, and a new "one-stop” website to help British music firms exporting to the EU.

The government should also work with EU nations to set up a Cultural Touring Agreement to cut red tape and costs involved in EU touring. We recommend the expansion of the BPI-administered Music Export Growth Scheme and the PRS Foundation-administered International Showcase Fund. 

To really sort this problem the Trade and Cooperation Agreement must be overhauled to exempt music workers supporting cultural performances, along with changes to ensure all EU states allow musicians to work at least 90-day days in each 180-day period. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement is due to be reviewed between the UK and EU in the next Parliament, so it's vital that we grasp this opportunity now to build support for a better deal for our musicians.

The members of our cross-party group are all parliamentarians who are passionate about helping the UK’s vibrant music industry to continue to flourish.  Our report charts the route that we believe the government must take to ensure British music’s touring future. 

Through the efforts of UK Music, parliamentarians, unions, other stakeholders, opposition and government, some limited progress has been made on these issues. It’s now time to write a new song together. It’s time to leave aside old divisions, for the government to focus on the needs of UK musicians and crew and let the music move! 

 

Kevin Brennan is the Labour MP for Cardiff West and chair of the APPG on Music. 

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