The UK has rejected an offer of visa-free tours by musicians in EU countries, though it blames Brussels for what the industry is calling the devastating blow to their permit requirement.
“It is generally in our agreements with third countries that [work] visas are not required for musicians. We tried to include it, but the UK said no, ”said a European source close to the negotiations.
The revelation comes after the threat of visa shock sparked protests that future tours will have to be scrapped, at a time when musicians are already reeling from Covid-19.
And that sparked calls for ministers to reveal exactly what happened in the negotiations, after insisting that Brussels was responsible for the damaging new bureaucracy.
Cabinet Minister Michael Gove on Saturday warned all kinds of businesses to prepare for a “significant border disruption” as more and more consequences of rule changes emerge.
The head of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) said she was “horrified” by the evidence that an offer on music had been rejected, while the Labor Party said fans “would not forgive” the government.
The row sparked bitter recriminations after music organizations were repeatedly reassured that a Brexit deal would protect touring artists, as well as their support teams and equipment.
Stars like folk singer Laura Marling and Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess have signed a parliamentary petition demanding visa-free tours, supported by nearly 230,000 people.
The government maintains that it “pushed for a more ambitious deal that would have covered musicians and others, but our proposals were rejected by the EU”.
In fact, countries as contrasting as the United States and Saudi Arabia enjoy a license-free exemption for performers in their agreements with the EU, which offers the arrangement as “standard.”
“The UK refused to accept because it said it was ending freedom of movement. It is wrong to say that they have asked for something more ambitious, ”the source said, adding“ that there must be reciprocity ”.
The stumbling block appears to have been Priti Patel’s immigration crackdown, who introduced strict restrictions on touring European musicians.
From this month, they, like non-European artists, must apply for visas – to visit for more than 30 days – as well as provide proof of savings and a certificate of sponsorship from an event organizer.
The independent understands that the UK has requested a similar 30-day exemption for its performers, but has rejected 90 days – to fit its own new rules.
Deborah Annetts, Managing Director of ISM, said: “I am horrified by this new development. The government must be clear about what steps it has taken to protect the performing arts in negotiations.
“The music industry feels deeply abandoned by the government and we want to get to the bottom of what happened.
“Throughout 2020, we have received assurances that the government understands how important frictionless travel is to the performing arts.
Alison McGovern, the shadow Labor Minister of Culture, said: “If Boris Johnson’s Tories have prevented musicians from touring Europe to make a political point, then music fans will not forgive them.
“Music is a huge export for the UK and touring and performing is now one of the main ways artists make money – so why would the Conservatives deliberately stop musicians from getting the best? taken advantage of opportunities in Europe? ”
And Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, Managing Director of UK Music, said: “Who’s at fault is irrelevant and a blame game doesn’t help anyone.
“The important thing is that both sides seem to really want this problem fixed, so it is imperative that they come together around a table and urgently agree on a solution.
But, during a debate in the House of Lords on Friday, Cabinet Minister Lord True said: ‘The UK has proposed measures which would have made it easier for musicians to travel and perform in the UK. United and in the EU, without the need for a work permit.
“More specifically, we have proposed to include work done by musicians, artists and performers, as well as their accompanying staff, in the list of activities permitted for short-term visitors.
“In practice this would have resulted in a result closer to the UK’s approach to incoming musicians, artists and performing artists, but these proposals were unfortunately rejected by the EU.”
It is now up to each EU member state to decide whether or not to require work visas, in the absence of a bloc-wide agreement.