Musicians slam government for ‘rejecting EU offer of visa-free travel after Brexit for touring acts’

The Government has denied reports it rejected an offer of visa-free tours by musicians in the European Union, saying it pushed for a ‘more ambitious agreement’ during negotiations.

The UK’s post-Brexit travel rules, which came into force on January 1, do not guarantee visa-free travel for artists and other creatives throughout the EU’s 27 member states.

Industry bodies, including trade group UK Music, have warned that performers who have to secure individual visas for each country they visit may face extra costs.

Citing an EU source close to negotiations, the Independent reported that a ‘standard’ proposal to exempt performers for 90 days was turned down by the UK, prompting anger from some musicians.

The unnamed EU source close to negotiations told the Independent: ‘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.

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke is among musicians who have hit out at the Government over claims they rejected arrangements for visa-free travel for touring musicians on the continent

The source went on to say that the UK refused to agree because ‘they said they were ending free moment’, adding that it was ‘untrue’ to say they asked for something more ambitious.

Without a bloc-wide agreement for visa-free travel, it will be up to each member state to decide the entry requirements for musicians travelling in their country, an arrangement which campaigners say will lead to added costs and bureaucracy. 

A Government spokesperson described the reports as ‘misleading speculation’.

They said: ‘The UK pushed for a more ambitious agreement with the EU on the temporary movement of business travellers, which would have covered musicians and others, but our proposals were rejected by the EU.’

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, composer Nitin Sawhney and Charlatans singer Tim Burgess were among those who voiced criticism.

Burgess described the reports as ‘the great rock n roll swindle’ in a tweet, adding: ‘We need to get answers to this and not let them sweep it under the carpet – they shouldn’t be let off the hook for treating artists with such contempt.’

Dua Lipa is among high-profile musicians who have supported a call for visa-free travel for musicians who are touring in the EU

A petition calling on the Government to negotiate a ‘free cultural work permit’ to ensure ease of travel throughout the EU has received more than 235,000 signatures.

Stars including One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson, former Boyzone member Ronan Keating and singer-songwriter Laura Marling have encouraged their fans to support the campaign.

The Liberal Democrats called on the Government to disclose what was offered by the EU during negotiations.

A spokesperson said: ‘These new restrictions are a blow to the music industry, which has already suffered so much during the pandemic, and will disadvantage young aspiring musicians the most and may make touring financially impossible for some.’

Horace Trubridge, general secretary of the Musicians’ Union (MU), said: ‘With the British music business having been devastated by Covid-19 and with no end in sight to the black hole of cancelled concerts, tours, festivals and regular gigs that is the very bedrock of our world-class industry, the news, if true, that our own elected representatives chose to turn down such an offer is nigh-on unbelievable.

‘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.’

Earlier this week, Cabinet Office minister Lord True said talks with Brussels over visa-free travel for artists were ‘unlikely’ to restart in the near future.

It comes as Cabinet Minister Michael Gove has been warned that confusing post-Brexit rules threatened to cause export chaos.

According to the Guardian, British manufacturing and trade organisations met with Gove in an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss problems with the deal struck by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in December.  

Empty shelves at a Marks & Spencer’s store on the Lisburn Road in Belfast, with retailers ‘experiencing some disruption after Brexit’ and Marks and Spencer has temporarily withdrawn a small proportion of product lines to ensure its delivery lorries are not turned away at ports

A source told the newspaper that one leading figure involved in the meeting described the new rules as ‘a complete s***show’ while another said Gove seemed ‘very concerned’.

The source added: ‘He [Gove] seemed to realise the full gravity of the situation that is unfolding and about to get worse.’

On Friday, Gove admitted there would be ‘significant additional disruption’ at the UK border as a result of Brexit customs changes in the coming weeks.

He said efforts to assist would be ‘redoubled’ as traders were urged to ensure their paperwork was in order, with cargo traffic at Dover expected to reach pre-Christmas levels again next week.

It comes as major parcel courier DPD paused some delivery services into Europe – including Ireland – because of pressure caused by new post-Brexit red tape.

Marks & Spencer also revealed that its popular Percy Pigs sweets were struggling to find their way across the Irish Sea to supermarket shelves in Ireland.

Empty fresh fruit shelves at a Marks & Spencer’s store on the Lisburn Road in Belfast, with retailers ‘experiencing some disruption after Brexit’

The retailer said the new rules and regulations are set to ‘significantly impact’ its overseas ventures in Ireland, the Czech Republic and France.

Mr Gove told broadcasters on Friday: ‘So far disruption at the border hasn’t been too profound but it is the case that in the weeks ahead we expect that there will be significant additional disruption, particularly on the Dover-Calais route.

‘It is our responsibility in Government to make sure that business is as ready as possible, and hauliers and traders have already done a lot but we have to redouble our efforts to communicate the precise paperwork that is required in order to make sure that trade can flow freely.

‘So over the course of the next few days, Government will be stepping up that communications effort to make sure that business knows what is required.’

The latest Government figures show that around 700 lorries have been turned away from the border since new rules came in to force after the end of the transition period with the European Union on January 1.

About 150 fines have been handed out for non-compliance with new rules designed to reduce truck queues in Kent.

But officials said those numbers could increase as the flow of lorries heading through Kent increases, with traffic drastically reduced at present.

Leading figures in British manufacturers and trade experts met with Michael Gove (pictured) on Thursday to warn that confusion over post-Brexit rules could cause export chaos

Over the past week, there has been an average of 1,584 lorries per day attempting border crossings, which is only around 40% of historical norms, according to the Cabinet Office.

As well as requiring the correct paperwork, including export declarations and the extra certificates needed for products such as plant and animal products, hauliers must secure a negative Covid-19 test and a Kent Access Permit before embarking on their travels onwards to Europe.

The increased push by Government to ready businesses comes as a host of sectors complained about the added complexity that they were having to wade through to trade with Europe. 

A Government spokesman said: ‘Although many businesses have moved goods successfully since January 1, we are aware of some issues, and are providing guidance and support.’



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