Brexit: David Frost says it’s not his job to solve EU touring crisis hitting musicians

Boris Johnson vowed Brexit minister would ‘fix’ problem - but peer insists it’s down to more junior departments

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 30 June 2021 08:16
Comments
David Frost dismisses Elton John's anger over Brexit touring crisis

Brexit minister David Frost has washed his hands of the crisis forcing musicians to abandon tours of the EU, despite Boris Johnson promising he would “fix” it.

In a stormy session with MPs, the chief negotiator insisted it was not his job to try to find a solution – which was the role of the culture and transport departments, he said.

Lord Frost refused to say that the crisis would be solved “this year” – as the UK refuses to reopen talks with Brussels – saying only: “We hope to be able to deliver some results.”

And he downplayed the anger of top musicians such as Elton John, who has accused ministers of lying, because the star “had his first hits before the UK even became a member the European Union”.

Lord Frost was accused of sacrificing touring artists – now faced with huge fees and red tape for visas, work permits and to transport equipment – to “Brexit anti-free movement zealotry”.

“I feel sorry for Michel Barnier,” said an exasperated Julian Knight, the Conservative chair of the Commons culture committee, referring to the EU negotiator.

In late March, the prime minister told MPs he would “fix” the crisis, saying: “David Frost – Lord Frost – is in overall charge of making this happen.”

But, three months later, the minister said: “It is the responsibility of DCMS [the department for digital, culture, music and sport] to take it forward with our embassies.”

The stance amounts to a rejection of the plea by industry groups for a cross-EU visa-waiver agreement – which the EU proposed last year but, as The Independent revealed, the UK rejected.

Instead, Lord Frost insisted the only route open was bilateral negotiations with 27 national capitals, although that will not allow cross-border touring of the EU to be restored fully.

Last year, ministers pledged that free movement would continue for performers, but the minister told the committee: “The country took a decision to leave the European Union.

“It took a decision to end free movement and that is what we have sought to deliver on –and it brings big change.”

During the session, the committee was told:

* The first face-to-face meeting Spain – an “absolutely key market”, Mr Knight pointed out – to try to ease red tape was only taking place today.

* Such meetings were delayed while DCMS awaited sign-off from a Lord Frost-led committee.

* The key issue of ‘cabotage’ – the rules for transporting equipment – has still not been discussed with the EU, despite it being a Brussels competency.

“Do you understand why musicians and artists and top crew who work in this industry feel they’ve been sold down the river by your deal?” Labour’s Kevin Brennan asked.

Ministers claim 17 of the 27 EU countries have taken some steps to reduce costs and red tape – but have refused to release any details.

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