Just one EU country signs deal to rescue post-Brexit music tours, despite Boris Johnson’s vow to ‘fix’ crisis

Only Spain has signed agreement, leaving artists mired in ‘mountains of red tape’ – with pressure on new Brexit minister Liz Truss to change course

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 02 January 2022 09:22 GMT
Boris Johnson’s vow to ‘fix’ Brexit crisis forcing musicians to abandon tours condemned as ‘a sham’

Only one of the 27 EU countries has agreed a deal to rescue post-Brexit music tours despite Boris Johnson’s vow to fix the crisis, an industry group is protesting.

The prime minister made the pledge under pressure nine months ago – but only Spain has signed an agreement since, leaving artists drowning in expensive “mountains of red tape”.

Now the Incorporated Society of Musicians is urging Liz Truss, the new Brexit minister, to reject the hardline approach of her predecessor, David Frost, which failed to make “progress”.

“All the problems first identified as facing the creative sector due to the TCA [the Brexit trade deal] still remain,” says a letter to the foreign secretary.

In an article for The Independent, the opera singer Sarah Connolly describes the bleak situation facing touring artists as “a seeping, pallid, undercooked, slippery slop”.

“2022 is a year that many in the creative industries will look ahead to with trepidation,” Dame Sarah writes.

Omicron is on the rise and the problems with the Brexit deal from 12 months ago are still problems today. My message to the government for the new year is, ‘listen to us’.”

The trade deal saw the UK – as The Independent revealed – reject an EU offer to retain visa- and permit-free tours, breaking a promise made to music organisations last year.

In March, Mr Johnson, confronted with the severe problems obtaining paperwork to perform and to transport equipment across EU borders, told MPs: “We must fix it.”

But Lord Frost – the minister he put in charge – appeared to wash his hands of the crisis and refused to say it would be resolved, before quitting the cabinet.

Ministers were then attacked, including by Elton John, for wrongly claiming 21 of the 27 EU countries are offering visa- and work permit-free access, when severe restrictions still exist in almost all of them.

In its letter, the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), representing 11,000 members, urges Ms Truss to switch tack and kickstart negotiations with EU states, while still calling for a visa waiver deal with Brussels.

“The sector is now facing mountains of red tape, which is both costly and time-consuming,” warns Deborah Annetts, its chief executive.

“The proposed solutions such as bilateral agreements with EU states have not materialised, apart from with Spain, and there are serious issues with cabotage, carnets and designated ports.

“All these issues are adversely impacting the UK music industry and the broader creative industries, which is worth £116bn per annum, the same as finance or construction.”

To add the anger, Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, quickly claimed credit for the Spain deal, allowing UK musicians to work for 90 out of 180 days.

But industry insiders insist organisations including the Association of British Orchestras, and their counterparts in Spain, did the bulk of the negotiating – and it does not cover transportation.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has been invited to respond to the criticisms raised in the letter.

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