When touring musicians, artists and crew were not covered with a comprehensive reciprocal agreement for visa-free touring in the post-Brexit trade deal (read the background here), the UK blamed the EU in the days after the announcement.
There has since been much back and forth from both sides, with pressure mounting to secure a solution.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden even wrote a piece for NME this week outlining the government’s position for post-Brexit touring (and blaming the EU again).
But the EU’s Brexit negotiator has hit back and insisted that the UK lacked “ambition”.
"I very much regretted that the British didn't have more ambition for people's mobility," said Michel Barnier. "From last March, we made fairly ambitious proposals in terms of mobility, including for specific categories such as journalists, performers, musicians and others. But you need to be two to make a deal."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has now told Parliament that he will tackle the issue.
Responding to a question by Cardiff West MP Kevin Brennan during PMQs (watch it at 31.23), Johnson said: “I will of course ensure that there is a proper meeting with the honourable gentleman and his colleagues on this subject, which is extremely important. I know that our friends in the EU will be wanting to go further to improve things for not just musicians, but business travellers of all kinds. There is a mutual benefit.”
Following Johnson’s remarks, the general secretary of the Musicians’ Union, Horace Trubridge, has written to the Prime Minister highlighting the barriers facing British musicians seeking to tour the EU in the post-lockdown era.
“We were delighted to hear your answer to Kevin Brennan’s question about touring musicians during Prime Minister’s Questions,” wrote Horace Trubridge. “As Kevin set out, there is an urgent need for a reciprocal work-permit-free deal for touring musicians and performers, and our members were very disappointed not to see this in the Brexit deal.
“It is overwhelmingly in Britain’s economic and cultural interest to negotiate this with the EU as soon as possible, so that musicians are able to go back to work as soon as coronavirus restrictions ease. Our industry has been incredibly badly hit by the Covid-19 crisis and if our members are also restricted by additional costs and red tape on touring once things start to go back to normal, we will see a real downturn in what is a unique British success story: music. We therefore look forward to the outcome of the meeting that you agreed to arranging.”
A petition backing the MU proposal for a Musicians’ Passport has 109,000 signatures.
A separate petition has been set up calling for Europe-wide visa-free touring for musicians and crew by concert technician Tim Brennan. It’s currently got 260,000 signatories.
Featured Artists Coalition CEO David Martin has welcomed the government’s acknowledgement of the concerns within the sector.
"It doesn't matter to artists or the music industry who said what during the Brexit negotiations,” he said. “What matters is that the situation is rectified. I am happy to see Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Secretary of State Oliver Dowden explicitly announce that there is the will within government to find a solution to this impasse.
“The current rules will see the UK performers subject to 30 different sets of regulations in the EU and EEA, and artists from across Europe subject to one of three modes for entering the UK, which they were not previously required to navigate. In both directions, this will add cost and bureaucracy, which is to neither the UK nor the EU's benefit.”
It doesn't matter to artists or the music industry who said what during the Brexit negotiations – what matters is that the situation is rectified
Responding to Dowden’s NME article, Martin said: “I note Mr Dowden's comments that nothing has changed for European artists entering the UK, I would welcome further clarification on this claim given that European performers now have third-party national status when working in the UK.
“As always, the FAC and our colleagues across the industry are ready to work with Mr Dowden's department and others in government, to ensure a simple and effective solution is put in place, allowing performers across the whole of Europe to travel easily and ensuring fans across the continent are not disappointed."