UK government ministers on Tuesday (19 January) rejected demands that they try to broker a deal with the EU and ensure that visa-free tours by musicians can continue, insisting that “taking back control” of borders should be the UK’s first priority.
Under the post Brexit agreement between the UK and EU, which entered into force on 1 January, EU citizens can come to the UK as tourists for up to six months. Meanwhile, British bands can tour Europe for up to 90 days in a 180-day period.
However, the UK government’s decision to leave the EU’s single market and end free movement, and the failure of the new EU-UK trade accord to cover professional mobility, means that British musicians and crews are no longer guaranteed visa-free travel and will need extra work permits to play in certain European countries.
Tours in Germany and Spain, for instance, will now require extra visas for paid work, while those in France and the Netherlands will not.
Addressing UK lawmakers on Tuesday, Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage insisted that talks with the EU on the matter would resume only if Brussels “changes its mind” about how to resolve the stalemate.
“That is just simply not compatible with our manifesto commitment to taking back control of our borders,” she told MPs.
The debate in the House of Commons had been prompted by Scottish National Party MP Pete Wishart, himself the former keyboard player for the band Runrig, who complained that musicians were being treated as “mere collateral in this government’s obsession in ending freedom of movement.”
Music industry bosses have warned that the new travel restrictions will impose new costs on live music tours.
The row has prompted a war of words between London and Brussels over who was responsible for the impasse.
“During our negotiations, we proposed measures to allow creative professionals to travel and perform in both the UK and EU, without needing work-permits. Unfortunately, the EU rejected these proposals,” the UK government has stated.
However, last week, the EU insisted it was the UK government’s choice to end visa-free touring for musicians on the continent, stating that they had offered the UK 90 days of visa-free travel only for Johnson’s minister to respond with their own proposal of just 30 days.
“I very much regretted that the British didn’t have more ambition for people’s mobility,” EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters.
A petition calling for the two sides to agree on a “Europe-wide visa-free work permit for touring professionals and artists” has already been signed by more than 260,000 people.
Horace Trubridge, general secretary of the UK’s Musicians’ Union, has warned that “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.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]