Have touring artists been forgotten in the government's Brexit deal with the EU?

Have touring artists been forgotten in the government's Brexit deal with the EU?

A trade deal with the EU means that many music industry executives can continue to enjoy their Christmas break without worrying too much about the immediate consequences of Brexit in 2021.

The deal is being signed by EU chiefs in Brussels and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, followed by a vote in the UK Parliament (December 30). 

While there will be widespread relief in the music industry that an agreement was reached ahead of the December 31 deadline, questions are now being asked about what it actually means for touring artists and musicians.

Almost a year ago, then Culture Minister Nigel Adams avowed that free movement for artists would be “absolutely essential” post-Brexit. It was a comment that was met with howls of derision: Adams, of course, was a Brexiteer. Ending freedom of movement between the EU and UK was at the heart of the pro-Brexit campaign.

Despite the evident inconsistency, Adams’ comment did provide hope that touring musicians would be supported by the government post-Brexit. So has that happened, now that the 1,246-page agreement has been published?

The reaction from trade bodies reveals huge concerns about the likely impact on musicians and artists (alongside other performers and technicians in the cultural sector). Work permits for touring and promotion in the EU could now become the standard requirement. 

While the deal allows UK citizens to make visa-free business trips to the EU for 90 days, there are restrictions on the activities they can perform.

Furthermore, if UK musicians are obliged to adhere to the rules in each member state – where they would be classed as ‘third-country nationals’ – that would create an uneven and complex system. Countries such as France and Ireland allow performers to work for up to 90 days, while others including Spain, Italy and Denmark require permits. 

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) said it was “deeply concerned about the absence of visa-free travel provisions for working musicians”.

“This will have huge implications for UK musicians who work within the EU, as the ISM’s most recent Brexit report found that 78% of musicians visit EU/EEA at least once a year to perform,” said the organisation. 

(Updated: December 30) While the EU-UK deal was overwhelmingly backed by MPs, efforts to enable musicians to be able to tour without visas were thwarted. Conservative MPs voted down a bid for extra time for debate, which had been tabled by the SNP.

A Labour amendment on securing an agreement with the EU on touring was among those unable to be debated and voted on during the limited timeframe for the Bill in Parliament.

The government has previously said that its intention was to negotiate “reciprocal arrangements” to protect musicians touring in the EU. 

ISM chief executive Deborah Annetts said: “The ISM and music sector is grateful for the support for musicians and creatives shown today in Parliament. However, the music sector feels badly let down by the government. It is crucial that the government listens to the concerns raised by MPs and members of the House of Lords and ensures that musicians and creatives can continue to travel and work freely in the EU – as the government assured us just weeks ago.

“From January 1, musicians will face a mountain of red tape – from CITES to carnets – which threatens the future viability of working in the EU. Very few musicians will be able to afford this extra cost which can run to thousands of pounds, harming not only the value of the music industry (which generates £5.8bn a year to the UK economy) but also individual livelihoods. We call on the government to take the necessary steps to ensure that musicians can continue to work in the EU without visas, making good on the many assurances just a matter of weeks ago.”

While touring is currently curtailed by the Covid pandemic, the sector is now facing up to the burden of extra costs and bureaucracy when concerts and festivals can return safely.

Artists including KT Tunstall, Ronan Keating and Gary Kemp have signed a petition calling on the government to negotiate a free culture work permit. 

Labour Shadow Cabinet member Thangam Debbonaire said that touring visa provisions should have been part of the deal. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had described the agreement as “thin”, though the party will back the deal.

The Musicians' Union has expressed its concern that the deal does not adequately cover arrangements for touring musicians. Its petition for a Musicians’ Passport has attracted tens of thousands signatures, alongside support from a large number of MPs.

Horace Trubridge, MU general secretary, said: “Over the past few years we have told the government in every possible way that a Brexit deal needs to make provisions for touring musicians. We have nearly 90,000 petition signatures calling for a Musicians’ Passport, hundreds of MPs have spoken on behalf of our members in parliament and Ministers have assured us over and over again that they will ensure that touring musicians will not be subject to extra cost or admin post Brexit. 

"And yet we now see that this deal does not address any of our concerns. In the short term, we urge the government to add musicians to the list of ‘Independent Professionals’ at the earliest opportunity. In the longer term, we will be lobbying for a reciprocal arrangement with the EU that will allow musicians to work unimpeded."

Over the past few years we have told the government in every possible way that a Brexit deal needs to make provisions for touring musicians

Horace Trubridge

The 90-day maximum for short-term business visitors in Europe has major implications for touring musicians. Carnets will potentially add a significant cost for artists to circumnavigate customs for professional equipment.

At the moment, short-term visa-free travel is possible between the UK and EU, but the MU has warned that could change in the near future.

UK Music chief executive Jamie Njoku-Goodwin said: “The government now needs to ensure the ability of our workforce to move freely around Europe at a time when we are continuing to battle the impact of Covid-19. 

“There is a real risk that British musicians will not be able to bear the cost of extra bureaucracy and delays which would put some tours at risk. If musicians and creators from overseas face barriers and costs getting into the UK, audiences here could miss out on seeing some of their favourite acts.”

While touring is the key area of concern, UK Music also identified exports and copyrights as areas where the industry needs reassurance. 

“News of a deal is welcome and has removed some of the uncertainty facing the music industry,” said Njoku-Goodwin. “However, there are still many questions about the future arrangements for those working in our industry, in particular what it means for touring.

"The Prime Minister has promised there will be no non-tariff barriers, so it is vital that government delivers on this promise and ensures there are no barriers to British musicians working and touring through Europe. We will be seeking urgent reassurances on this from government.” 

“I welcome the news of the Brexit deal,” said Downtown’s Roberto Neri, chair of the Music Publishers Association. “Whilst it brings some reassurance, we now need the government to protect the UK Music Industry; including support for touring and the protection of copyright.”

Njoku-Goodwin added: "We are eager to take advantages of the opportunities this deal will bring, and the Prime Minister’s proposal to set new frameworks for the sectors in which the UK leads the world is particularly exciting. The UK is one of the only countries in the world that is a net exporter of music, and so we look forward to working with government to develop those frameworks, especially in the area of copyright protection.”

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