UK performers raise alarm as Brexit deal threatens EU touring
Actors, musicians and comedians have reacted with alarm to provisions in the Brexit trade deal that will prevent British performers moving around many European countries without a work permit.
Leaders of the culture sector fear the clauses will severely curtail the ability of performers to go on tour in Europe, and will hamper the recovery of the arts after the devastating impact of the pandemic.
The clauses in the deal will affect tens of thousands of people in the UK’s creative industries, including film-makers, technicians and models as well as performers.
Prominent performers including the actor and comedian Dawn French and the musicians KT Tunstall, Ronan Keating and Gary Kemp are among more than 170,000 people who have signed a petition calling on the government to negotiate a free culture work permit for UK performers in the EU.
The petition was started by a video technician, Tim Brennan, who said he wanted to highlight how thousands of technicians as well as performers would be hit by the change. It reads: “The UK has a huge music / event touring industry which has suffered immensely due to Covid.
“We face further hardship when trying to tour the EU on a professional basis, with potentially each country asking for its own visa, that would be valid only for one trip. As a freelancer I and many like me travel through the EU countless times a year on different tours and events, this will become impossible due to cost and time if we do not have visa free travel.”
The actors’ union, Equity, which is backing the call, said creative workers had been forgotten in the trade deal’s visa-free travel arrangements.
The Labour frontbencher Thangam Debbonaire is also backing the petition. She tweeted: “After an awful year a further kick from the govt who appear to have simply written off EU touring in their Brexit trade deal.”
She said many Labour MPs, including the shadow culture secretary, Jo Stevens, had repeatedly raised the need for touring visa provisions in the trade agreement.
The agreement allows people to make visa-free business trips to the EU for 90 days in any given six-month period, but there are restrictions on the activities they can perform. Activities such as meetings, attending conferences and conducting research are fine, but selling goods or services directly to the public will require a visa.
A trade body, the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), said it was “deeply concerned about the absence of visa-free travel provisions for working musicians”.
It said that under the deal UK performers would be considered as third-country nationals, meaning that they would have to adhere to the immigration rules of each EU member state in which they worked. It pointed out that some countries, including France and Ireland, allow performers to work at least for 90 days. But others – including Denmark, Italy and Spain – require permits.
It said: “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.”
Deborah Annetts, the ISM chief executive, said: “It is hugely disappointing to see that musicians and other creatives will not be covered by visa-free short-term business trip provisions. After everything that the sector has been through over the past 10 months, how has this happened? It is high time that the value of music to our lives and our economy is recognised fully.”
Speaking to Times Radio, she added: “It cannot be stated enough how badly this will affect touring.”
UK Music’s chief executive, Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, agreed. He said: “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.”
Musicians and other performers requiring equipment face the added burden of having to fill out a carnet, a passport for goods that involves paying a deposit on the gear involved.
Ian Smith, the director of the international music agencies Frusion and Frizzion, said the new arrangements would add thousands of pounds to the cost of small bands touring in the EU.
He said: “For small emerging bands it is going to be a very onerous cost. The Musicians’ Union have been warning about this for four years, but it has been ignored. It could hit 150,000 musicians at least.”
He also pointed out that from January musicians face the added risk of having their instruments confiscated if they contain rare wood or ivory and don’t have the correct paper.