Sir Elton John has upped the stakes in the campaign to secure visa-free touring for artists in the EU.
Since the realisation that touring artists, musicians and crew had not been included in the Brexit trade deal, Elton John has joined other industry figures in calling for an urgent solution. He previously met with Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden to discuss the issue.
The UK government has so far blamed the EU for the lack of agreement, though DCMS Minister Caroline Dinenage admitted that the package of EU proposals across multiple sectors during negotiations “wasn’t consistent with the idea of Brexit”.
With little progress six months after the deal was struck, Elton John has now issued a statement that was provided by Marshall Arts promoter Craig Stanley during a DCMS Committee hearing today.
“Last month Rocket Entertainment CEO David Furnish, Marshall Arts’ Craig Stanley, [Lib Dem peer] Lord Strasburger and I met with [Brexit Minister] Lord Frost to spell out the damage the trade agreement he negotiated with Europe is doing to the UK's music industry and to try to find practical solutions and ways forward,” said Sir Elton. “Put bluntly, we are currently in grave danger of losing a generation of talent due to the gaping holes in the government's trade deal. New and emerging artists will be unable to tour Europe freely – an essential part of their education and development – due to the prohibitive costs of visas, carnets and permits.
“However, despite this looming catastrophe, the government seems unable or unwilling to fix this gaping hole in their trade deal and defaults to blaming the EU rather than finding ways out of this mess. The situation is already critical and touring musicians, crews and support staff are already losing their livelihood.”
With the trade deal apparently unable to be reopened, the government has said it will make bilateral arrangements with EU countries on touring arrangements. Elton John has spoken out as touring is set to return from its Covid shutdown in the second half of the year.
Elton John added: “I want to be clear that the issues of visa-free and permit-free touring aren't about the impact on me and artists who tour arenas and stadiums. We are lucky enough to have the support staff, finance and infrastructure to cut through the red tape that Lord Frost's no-deal has created.
“This gravest of situations is about the damage to the next generation of musicians and emerging artists, whose careers will stall before they've even started due to this infuriating blame game. If I had faced the financial and logistical obstacles facing young musicians now when I started out, I’d never have had the opportunity to build the foundations of my career and I very much doubt I would be where I am today.”
The situation is critical and touring musicians, crews and support staff are already losing their livelihood
The Musicians’ Union and the Incorporated Society of Musician (ISM) expressed disappointment that Lord Frost suddenly cancelled his appearance before the DCMS Committee today.
ISM chief executive Deborah Annetts said: “As Lord Frost is at the heart of negotiations, his absence deprives MPs of a vital opportunity to find out what the UK government is doing to make sure the music sector is not destroyed by Brexit. Lord Frost must urgently schedule a new appearance to answer the Select Committee’s questions, to prevent further harm to the UK’s creative industries.”
MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge said: “Since the beginning of the year we have been promised that a deal would be done to remove the enormous barriers that musicians are now facing when performing in EU member states. We have become tired and frustrated by the empty promises from ministers, and the PM himself, but we were pinning our hopes on this meeting and a subsequent breakthrough. What has become starkly clear is that this government cares not a jot for the UK creative industries, either at home or abroad, and the treasury will pay a heavy price in the future if ministers don’t wake up and realise that they are squandering the future prospects of one of this country’s most precious assets.”
MU deputy general secretary Naomi Pohl added: “Lord Frost Frost has dodged this meeting at the last minute due to an apparent diary clash which could have been identified much sooner than today. It appears that he does not see addressing the concerns of the music industry, musicians and other freelance workers who rely on touring in the EU, as a priority.
“Our industry is worth £5.8bn to the economy, supports 200,000 jobs and generates £2.9bn in exports, whilst the creative industries secure an extremely valuable £111bn. We therefore have many outstanding questions and concerns about the impact of Brexit on touring which the Select Committee members would have addressed. We hope Frost's appearance will be rescheduled as soon as possible. The meeting, which has been planned for a long time was key to getting our message across. This is a massive let down, not just to the music industry but the entire creative industries.”
DCMS Committee chair Julian Knight MP issued a rebuke following the eleventh hour withdrawal by Lord Frost.
“Parliamentary scrutiny in front of Select Committees is of crucial importance in our democratic system and is particularly important when we have a government with a majority of over 80,” he said.
“It is brought into even sharper focus when the government chooses to appoint members of the House of Lords to Cabinet. Ministers in Cabinet from the Commons have scrutiny due to questions, urgent statements and departmental questions. They are accountable every day. It isn’t acceptable for Lords not to be accountable when they hold high office. I, and this Committee, look forward to Lord Frost joining us at the rearranged date and we will not truck any further cancellation.”