David Frost admits his Brexit deal failed touring musicians by inflicting ‘excessive’ red tape

‘We have been too purist on this’, concedes minister who rejected EU offer – breaking promise to rescue visa free tours

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 16 March 2022 19:11 GMT
David Frost dismisses Elton John's anger over Brexit touring crisis

David Frost has admitted his Brexit trade deal failed touring musicians and other artists by inflicting punishing costs and red tape, in an extraordinary U-turn.

The negotiator of the agreement had staunchly defended the agreement – blamed for making many tours unaffordable – and refused to get involved in attempts to improve it.

But, in a lecture delivered three months after he quit as Brexit minister, Lord Frost has now admitted it was a mistake not to compromise with the EU and called for a rethink.

“We should take another look at mobility issues,” he said, 15 months after The Independent revealed he rejected such a deal in the Brexit talks.

“There is a whole set of problems here that is making life difficult on both sides: youth mobility, movement of specialists like musicians and artists.”

Lord Frost argued “these problems can be solved” without crossing the UK’s red line of ending free movement of EU citizens – despite ministers repeatedly insisting that is not possible.

And he admitted he had been “too purist”, saying a deal removing “excessive paperwork and process requirements” is needed, adding: “We should try to get to it.”

The peer also revealed the government did consider shifting to “a more pragmatic position” last year, claiming the “vaccine wars” with the EU made that “impossible”, but adding: “This time we should try harder.”

The astonishing mea culpa comes amid continuing fears about the plight of musicians, denied the chance to further their careers, after the Brexit deal broke a promise to save visa-free touring.

The UK rejected an EU offer to retain visa and permit-free tours, leaving artists mired in red tape, and no effort has been made to begin fresh talks with Brussels.

Instead, ministers have made “misleading” claims about the paperwork involved – despite Boris Johnson’s vow to “fix” the crisis, made a year ago.

Elton John has led criticism of the government for claiming 21 of the 27 EU countries are offering visa and work permit-free access, when severe restrictions still exist.

Lord Frost’s comments were condemned as “an astonishing admission of guilt” by Labour MP Kevin Brennan, who has pursued the controversy as a member of the Commons culture committee.

“Purist dogma has ruined successful British businesses and hit artists income hard –they will rightly be furious with an incompetent government that sacrificed them for no good reason.”

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), asked what ministers are “going to do to fix the problem”, following the admission.

“So Lord Frost has finally admitted that the government may have been too purist and that the trade deal with Europe is making life difficult for musicians,” she said – adding it was, in fact, “a disaster”.

Naomi Pohl, deputy general secretary of the Musicians Union, said: “This is a long overdue admission from Lord Frost that an arrangement to facilitate musicians touring would not undermine the government’s immigration policy.

“What we need is an EU-wide deal which enables our members to tour in Europe or bilateral agreements with individual territories.”

And Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, chief executive of UK Music, said: “These comments confirm everything the music industry has been warning about for more than a year now, and should be a call to action for ministers.

“If even the chief negotiator believes we should look at mobility issues again, there is no excuse for government not to act on this.”

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