UK pursuing bilateral solution to visa deadlock
The British government is negotiating on a bilateral basis with individual EU countries in a bid to break the deadlock over the issue of visas for touring artists, culture minister Diana Barran said today.
Taking questions in the House of Lords on 20 January, the Baroness Barran, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, told peers that while the UK’s previous offer to the EU to reopen negotiations on exempting musicians “still stands”, the government is also seeking “simplification and clarification on a bilateral basis with individual member states.”
Barran’s disclosure that Britain is shifting its attention to individual countries can be seen as a ‘plan B’ for performers in the absence of an EU-wide deal. As legal expert George Peretz explains, UK artists who want to tour the EU (excluding the Republic of Ireland, where the Common Travel Area already allows free travel) currently face “26 different sets of rules” – one for each member state – instead of one, as such an arrangement was not included in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
Why that is is different depending on who you ask: European negotiators claim the UK turned down an offer from the EU of a 90-day visa-free period every 180 days, while British officials continue to insist EU inflexibility resulted in no deal for musicians.
UK artists currently face “26 different sets of rules”
In response to a question from the Lord McNally, in which McNally accused “Brexit zealots” of torpedoing any possibility of an agreement on freedom of movement “to protect the purity” of the UK’s hard break, Barran insisted British negotiators “tried very hard to stand up for Britain’s brilliant cultural and creative sectors, and reflect their requests to us about what they needed from the deal”.
The back and forth in the Lords came as industry leaders met with the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Oliver Dowden, to discuss the other obstacles thrown up by the deal, including cabotage, work permits, ATA carnets for touring orchestras, and VAT and administration charges on physical products shipped from the UK to the EU.
Elsewhere, British stars including Ed Sheeran, Sir Elton John, Sting, Liam Gallagher and the Who’s Brexit-voting Roger Daltrey put their names to a letter in today (20 January)’s Times to warn that the ongoing “negotiating failure” threatens the future of cultural exchange between the UK and the continent.
The letter, which was organised by the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats party, urges the UK government to “do what it said it would do” and negotiate visa-free travel to Europe for British artists and their equipment.
The stars also address the EU, asking that any deal be made reciprocal (for EU visitors to the UK).
“We are determined to give those talented people the clarity they need”
An Excel spreadsheet created by the European Commission at the tail end of 2020 attempts to outline the current situation for British musicians, analysing which EU countries require work permits for artists and which don’t. (However, “[t]he blanks and footnotes suggest that anyone really wanting certainty will need good legal advice from the country concerned,” writes Peretz.)
Wherever blame lies for the current impasse, UK ministers insist they will heed the growing calls to provide clarity for artists and the broader live music industry, with another culture minister – Caroline Dinenage, minister of state for digital and culture – reiterating in the Commons yesterday that the UK’s “door is open” for discussions on resolving the issue.
Echoing her sentiments today, Barran claimed that while UK negotiators “did everything in their power to avoid the current situation”, the government is now is now looking ahead in order to secure a “simple and straightforward” deal for live entertainers.
“We are incredibly disappointed that the EU neither proposed, nor accepted, a tailored deal for musicians,” she said, “and we are determined to give those talented people the clarity they need to survive.”
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