Brexit minister hits back at Elton John’s criticism of post-Brexit touring rules

Brexit minister Lord Frost has hit back at criticism from Sir Elton John over post-Brexit visa rules for musicians in the EU, saying the musician managed to become successful before the UK joined the bloc.

Sir Elton has previously warned of a “looming catastrophe” facing the UK music industry because of new travel restrictions on touring in the EU.

However, Lord Frost told the committee Sir Elton did not need the EU to become successful.

Lord Frost
Lord Frost (House of Commons/PA)

New rules which came into force at the beginning of the year do not guarantee visa-free travel for musicians in the EU and have prompted fears that touring artists will incur large fees in many of the countries they visit.

Lord Frost said of Sir Elton: “I can’t help noticing that he had his first hits before the UK even became a member of the European Union, so I think there’s probably more at play here than pure rules applying within the then-European Community.

“Talent is important, and that’s why we support our talented industries.”

Sir Elton revealed earlier this month he previously had a meeting with Lord Frost, his husband David Furnish and Craig Stanley, an agent at the Marshall Arts touring agency, to discuss post-Brexit touring.

In a statement to a previous meeting of the select committee, Sir Elton said: “Put bluntly, we are currently in grave danger of losing a generation of talent due to the gaping holes in the Government’s trade deal.

“New and emerging artists will be unable to tour Europe freely – an essential part of their education and development – due to the prohibitive costs of visas, carnets and permits.”

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More than 50 acts including Mumford & Sons, Idris Elba, Massive Attack and Fatboy Slim had also previously warned of an impending “crisis” over post-Brexit touring in the EU as part of the #LetTheMusicMove campaign.

Lord Frost also told the committee the Government is hoping to “deliver results” later this year for touring musicians facing visa issues, saying resolving the situation is a “major priority” for the Government.

He added it was “impossible to be sure” whether the situation with post-Brexit touring would improve “because so much depends on the course of the pandemic”.

He added: “If we are back to normal, I very much hope that we will have had good, constructive negotiations with the seven (countries), as we understand it, who operate more restrictive rules.”

Lord Frost said he hoped they would become “much more flexible”.

He added that there had been “practical difficulties” in some areas as a consequence of the “significant” changes that had taken place as a result of Brexit.

During the hearing, Labour MP Kevin Brennan accused Lord Frost of seeking to avoid facing questions from the select committee after he cancelled an appearance before the MPs earlier this month.

Lord Frost responded: “This is my fifth select committee appearance within a month and I have got another two in the next couple of weeks, so I don’t particularly appreciate it if it’s suggested that I’m not fulfilling scrutiny responsibilities and I’m here now.”

He also told the committee the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has been “taking the lead” on resolving issues on post-Brexit travel arrangements for creative workers rather than him.

Culture minister Caroline Dinenage also told the committee that visa-free touring was now possible in 17 EU countries.

After the select committee hearing, the #LetTheMusicMove campaign group said in a statement: “Today’s select committee session will do little to soothe the growing concerns of the UK’s artists, musicians and live music businesses.

“While we continue to suffer the catastrophic impacts of Covid, many are now in open despair at the Government’s disturbing lack of urgency to address a range of Brexit-related bureaucracy and costs that will make EU touring almost prohibitively expensive and burdensome.”