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Industry reacts with anger to claim that government ‘rejected offer’ for visa-free EU access for musicians

The UK music industry has reacted with anger to a report in the Independent newspaper that the UK government had rejected an offer of a visa-free right to work in the European Union for a period of 90 days following the country’s departure from the EU.

Organisations and artists alike have met the claim with incomprehension – calling both for clarification and transparency about what was discussed, and what occurred.

According to an unnamed EU source quoted by the article, described as close to the negotiations, ‘It is usually in our agreements with third countries, that [work] visas are not required for musicians. We tried to include it, but the UK said no.’ 

The Chief Executive of the ISM, the UK’s professional body for musicians, Deborah Annetts, has called for an urgent parliamentary statement on the matter. ‘The ISM and the rest of the music sector are appalled by shocking reports that the UK Government rejected an offer from the EU to waive bureaucratic work permits for British touring musicians, in direct contrast to statements made by Ministers in Parliament last week.

‘If these reports are true then we are looking at a serious breach of trust after the Government provided multiple assurances throughout 2020 that they understood the importance of frictionless travel for UK musicians and would be negotiating an ambitious agreement to achieve this objective.

The Independent‘s story followed a debate last week – referred to above – in the House of Lords in which Lord True, a government Minister, claimed that ‘During our negotiations with the EU, the UK proposed measures that would have allowed musicians to travel and perform in the UK and the EU more easily, without needing work permits. Specifically, we proposed including the work done by musicians, artists and entertainers, and their accompanying staff, in the list of permitted activities for short-term visitors. In practice, this would have delivered an outcome closer to the UK’s approach to incoming musicians, artists and entertainers, but these proposals were, sadly, rejected by the EU.’

The Musicians Union has also added its voice for clarification, demanding that ‘the Culture Minister urgently confirms one way or another whether it was the UK Government that blocked the deal which would have granted UK musicians easy access to EU states for touring.’

Horace Trubridge, MU General Secretary, said: ‘Ever since the result of the referendum in 2016, the MU has campaigned and lobbied for a Musicians’ Passport that would allow our members and their support crew to make a successful living across Europe. This campaign has been backed by all sides of the industry and current petitions, signed by hundreds of thousands of musicians, industry workers and supporters.’

‘Negotiators on both sides should continue to acknowledge the importance of cultural life and its huge social and economic value by finding an acceptable solution.’

One such petition calling on the government ‘to negotiate a free cultural work permit that allows visa-free travel throughout the 27 EU states’ for musicians, has attracted almost a quarter of a million signatures. This, together, with some of the biggest names from other genres, such as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, and opposition parties, also adding their voice, should ensure it is an issue that will not be ignored.

Concluding last week’s debate, following the issue of musicians’ ability to work in the EU being passionately raised by a number of politicians, the government minister, said ‘There is a review clause on the list of permitted activities, and I can assure the House that the Government will continue to give the highest priority to this important sector.’

All those whose livelihoods and creativity rely on opportunities to perform in the EU must be urgently hoping so.

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