Culture Secretary assessing ‘absurd’ post-Brexit obstacles facing musicians

George Ryan and Lewis McKenzie, PA Political Staff

The Culture Secretary has said the EU must budge to end the “absurd and self-defeating” obstacles facing UK-based musicians wishing to tour Europe post-Brexit.

Oliver Dowden defended the UK’s approach during Brexit talks as he faced warnings from across the Commons about performers being hit by a “double whammy” of visa changes and Covid-19 restrictions.

MPs were also told a working group has been established by the Government to assess “any obstacles” facing British performers seeking to tour, and that the UK continues to speak with the EU.

The UK’s post-Brexit travel rules, which came into force at the beginning of the year, do not guarantee visa-free travel for musicians in the EU.

Mr Dowden said the UK rejected the EU’s offer as it was “not binding, it didn’t cover touring, it didn’t cover technical support staff, and crucially it didn’t cover work permits”.

Speaking in the Commons, Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper (St Albans) asked what action will be taken by the Government to ensure self-employed musicians can travel visa-free in the EU.

“One of my constituents is the orchestral leader of two major British orchestras, but more than 50% of her work with British orchestras is touring abroad in the EU,” she said.

“But she’s a self-employed musician, so she doesn’t have anybody to wade through all this new red tape for her.

“So, putting Covid to one side, by what specific date does (Oliver Dowden) hope to fix this absurd, bureaucratic, self-defeating situation so that self-employed musicians can enjoy visa-free travel in the EU?”

Mr Dowden responded: “First of all, I agree with her it is absurd and self-defeating, it could have been solved and it could still be solved today by the EU matching the offer that we have unilaterally made to EU nationals.”

Former actor and Conservative MP Giles Watling (Clacton) earlier said performers had been hit by a “double whammy” of visa changes and Covid-19 restrictions.

He added: “There is more, so much we can do to help our cultural offer that isn’t just cash injection.

“I implore my right honourable friend to push the Government to re-engage with the EU on visa and carnet-free travel for performers, their kit and support teams.

“I know that the EU walked away from our offer but they must be brought back to the table.

“Touring performers will be left with a double whammy of an industry devastated by Covid and the loss of an entire continent as a venue.”

Culture Minister Nigel Huddleston replied: “The door always remains open should our European friends wish to reconsider our mutually beneficially proposals which would have allowed UK touring professionals to travel more easily but that they rejected.

“In the meantime, where visas apply, our agreement with the EU contains measures designed to make the necessary travel processes as smooth as possible.

“A working group has been set up by the Secretary of State to look at any obstacles which might face British performers seeking to tour, and we will continue to seek to co-operate with our European friends on this important issue.”

SNP MP Owen Thompson (Midlothian) said: “The Government is very keen to blame the EU for the barriers being put in place for touring musicians, but Brexit was born and bred in the UK.

“Does the minister agree that the onus is on this Government to fix the abject failure in statecraft, and can he confirm what urgent steps are being taken to make sure touring musicians do not become yet another collateral damage of Brexit?”

Mr Dowden responded: “Well, first of all I would like to reassure touring musicians and all of those in the creative industry, I know how important the opportunity to tour is for them and it’s something that I discussed just yesterday with Elton John. I’ve discussed it with many others.

“It is a vital part of them building their careers. That is why we have set up this working group with musicians so that we can find ways of supporting them to continue to tour, not just, I should say, in Europe, but across the whole of the world.

“I think there are huge opportunities for the industry.”

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