- 20 Jan 21
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, 44% of UK-based musicians earned up to half of their earnings in the EU. Touring forms the financial safety net for a huge number of artists, but current restrictions limit this.
The music industry is reacting to news that the UK Government will not pursue a waiver scheme which would allow British musicians to tour the EU without the need for visas and work permits. The question must be asked of the Brexit Government - are they using the livelihoods of those in the hugely profitable creative industry to attempt to negotiate a better overall deal with the EU?
Over 100 well-known artists - Sting, Bob Geldof, Liam Gallagher and Elton John among them - signed an open letter published in the Times on Wednesday, calling on the UK Government to negotiate paperwork-free travel for British musicians touring Europe. The signatories made sure to emphasise that musicians have been “shamefully failed” by the Brexit deal with the EU.
Earlier this week, culture minister Caroline Dinenage said the EU's "very broad" offer "would not have been compatible with the government's manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders".
However, she said "the door is open" if the EU was willing to consider the UK's proposals to reach an agreement for musicians. In the meantime, she confirmed, musicians and artists touring the continent "will be required to check domestic immigration and visitor rules for each member state in which they intend to tour".
Currently a touring party from the UK working in the EU faces more administrative costs and barriers than others from ‘third countries’, which doesn’t seem to fit the stated intention of close partnership with the UK's nearest neighbours.
"You’d have to believe that this is all going to be worked out," Paul Charles, agent of Tom Waits, Jackson Browne, The Waterboys and more, said of the struggle for UK artists to tour post-Covid.
"European artists are going to want to continue to tour the lucrative UK touring circuit so for the equation to be balanced out, UK based artists will have to be approved to play in the various European countries... I can’t see a situation where this exchange won’t happen."
Charles also addresses rumours of British artists needing a differing work permit for each European country they tour, which would presumably be an administrative nightmare for all involved.
"The only mystery will be how difficult the governments involved will want to make the system. Hopefully common sense will prevail and eventually artists will resume full freedom of movement. There has been talk of UK artists needing a separate work permit for each separate country they visit. That seem to be a little scaremongering in the UK media. I don’t see that ever happening if only because the remainder of the EU works as a block in tandem with each other.
"I would suggest one of the main reasons that this situation will be resolved sooner rather than later is that each tour generates so much money in taxes and spinoffs for each country visited."
Noting the history of touring the continent prior to the creation of the European Union, Charles asserts that the re-introduction of a carnet would be more of an "inconvenience" than a barrier.
"Before we had an EU, each tour needed a carnet to move from one country to the next. A carnet was an official document listing all the equipment and instruments complete with their serial numbers and value of each item. Over the years this system was fine-tuned, worked well and was relatively inexpensive. If such a system comes back again it will be a little inconvenient but not really a hardship. It will be attended to, as it had been in the past, super efficiently, by the ever reliable road crews and truck drivers."
Founder of Viva La Visa, Andy Corrigan, expressed his disappointment at the failure of the EU and UK government to come together to support the creative sector in general.
"They have left us to try and work out for ourselves how the regulations impact on touring. The creative industries are resilient and resourceful and will find ways around whatever obstacles are put in our way, but it is often the smaller companies and artists who suffer most.”
According to studies by the ISM, the UK music industry grew to £5.8 billion in 2020, providing more than four times the value to their economy than fishing’s £1.4 billion. When combined with other creative industries, the sector is worth £111.7 billion.
Responding to the recent letter signed by 100 artists pleading for musician passports, a UK Government spokesperson said that musicians' concerns were being taken seriously but blamed the EU for the lack of deal.
“You have to wonder what’s going on in the tiny little minds of the Brexiteers,” Hot Press editor Niall Stokes said of the tumultuous situation.
“I have a hunch that, like the Northern Ireland protocol, the UK Government see it as a bargaining chip. Do they think that that they might be able to screw some concession in relation to the deal on services out of the EU, by first making it hard for audiences in Europe to see their favourite artists? Are they hoping that there’ll be uproar on the continent and that the EU negotiators will feel the pressure? And that they can then present an agreement to allow the creation of a ‘musical passport’ as a ‘balancing concession’ against some hoped-for deal on financial services? Or maybe it is just intended as revenge on musicians, given that so many were opposed to Brexit."
"The ludicrous thing is that music, in all its forms, is a hugely successful UK export, so they are damaging their own far more than the pesky Europeans, who might tour the UK," Stokes adds.
"The whole thing – like every aspect of Brexit at this stage – is farcical in the extreme. You’d laugh about it, if it weren’t so serious for the industry, and in particular for musicians and their livelihoods.”