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Visas: Brexit war of words heats up

With the UK and EU continuing to rubbish each other’s claims, the Brexit fall-out for touring musicians goes on

By IQ on 15 Jan 2021

Boris Johnson leaving for PMQs on Wednesday

Boris Johnson leaving for PMQs on Wednesday


image © Pippa Fowles/No10 Downing Street (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The European Union has hit back at claims by the British government it rejected the latter’s proposals for visa-free travel for touring artists, escalating the public war of words over the issue between the bloc and its recently departed former member state.

In response to a report in the Independent which claimed UK negotiators had knocked back an offer from the EU for visa-free touring, a UK government spokesperson told IQ earlier this week it was actually the EU which insisted on travel restrictions for musicians – saying Britain has supported, and will always support, “ambitious arrangements for performers and artists to be able to work and tour across Europe”.

Elaborating in an interview with the NME on Wednesday (13 January), UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden explained that the UK sought a “mutually beneficial agreement” that would have included musicians, artists, entertainers and crew in a class of “business visitors” exempt from needing work visas.

“But the EU turned it down, repeatedly,” said Dowden. “It did not propose and wouldn’t accept a tailored deal for musicians and artists. I’m afraid it was the EU letting down music on both sides of the Channel – not us.”

The EU, however, disputes Dowden’s version of events, claiming that the UK rejected special travel rights for artists and musicians prosed by EU negotiators.

“I very much regretted the fact that when it comes to mobility between the two sides that the British didn’t display any greater ambition”

Speaking to the FT, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said: “I very much regretted the fact that when it comes to mobility between the two sides that the British didn’t display any greater ambition. We had a number of initial proposals on this.”

It has been suggested that the EU’s reported offer of a 90-day visa-free period every 180 days – which would have effectively allowed a three-month European tour by British musicians – conflicted with the British government’s goal of ending freedom of movement between the UK and the EU and immigration reforms under home secretary Priti Patel.

Music industry associations have repeatedly called for clarity around European touring before live music restarts following a successful continent-wide vaccine programme, with umbrella body LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment) urging both sides to “work quickly to ensure that once Covid restrictions are lifted, UK artists are able to work across the EU with the same freedom that has been secured for people doing other business activity”.

British prime minister Boris Johnson has confirmed he will meet with MPs to discuss a way forward for the sector. “I know that our friends in the EU will be wanting to go further to improve things, for not just musicians, but business travellers of all kinds,” he said in the House of Commons on Wednesday. “There is a mutual benefit.”

Responding to a petition calling for a visa-free zone for touring artists, the UK government reiterated that “there is scope to return to this issue in the future should the EU change its mind”.

 


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