Cabinet minister ridiculed for boast about saving permit-free music tours to tiny Liechtenstein

Agreement with alpine microstate near-identical to that offered by 27-nation EU – which UK rejected

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 05 June 2021 16:34
<p>The government has refused to reopen talks with the EU to ease the mountain of red tape facing touring artists</p>

The government has refused to reopen talks with the EU to ease the mountain of red tape facing touring artists

A cabinet minister has been ridiculed for boasting about a deal to rescue visa-free music tours to tiny Liechtenstein – an agreement the UK rejected for the 27-nation EU.

Oliver Dowden came under fire after revealing a trade deal with three European Free Trade Association (EFTA) states included a chapter to remove barriers for performing artists and their crews.

“Delighted that our new trade deal with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein will allow musicians, performers and support crews to tour easily there,” the culture secretary tweeted.

In fact, the small print of the text revealed that no final agreement has been reached with Iceland – and the deal with Norway may not kick in for another year.

Furthermore, the aim of the agreement is identical to that offered by the EU in the Brexit trade talks which, as The Independent revealed in January, the UK rejected.

One roadie tweeted Mr Dowden to say: “In 22 years of touring I have worked 5 gigs in Norway, 2 gigs in Iceland and *checks notes* 0 gigs in Liechtenstein.”

And Owen Roberts, a Welsh guitarist and songwriter, said: “I look forward to the forthcoming tsunami of work in Liechtenstein.

“From 20 years of experience though, it might be nicer to be able to tour easily in France, Germany, The Netherlands, Spain (and the Balearics), Sweden, Portugal, Belgium, Finland....”

The alpine microstate of Liechtenstein is only 160 square kilometres in size and has a population of just under 39,000 – about the same as Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

The capital Vaduz boasts 5,696 residents. The strength of its music and theatre scene is unknown.

The EFTA deal comes amid growing criticism of the government for refusing to reopen talks with the EU to ease the mountain of red tape facing UK touring artists when pandemic restrictions ease.

Despite Boris Johnson’s high-profile promise to “fix” the crisis, few if any talks have taken place and artists have merely been promised advice on the barriers they face.

Mr Dowden angered organisations representing creative artists when he said it was up to them to use their lobbying power to solve the crisis, rather than the government’s responsibility.

The Musicians’ Union, One Dance UK, Equity, BECTU, Fashion Roundtable, Society of London Theatre, and the Association of British Orchestras are among bodies calling for a visa-waiver scheme.

It would allow short-term visits on a reciprocal basis, generally meaning 90 out of any 180 days. The deal with the EFTA states allows its performers to visit for any 90 days within a six-month period.

When the EU’s similar proposal was thrown out, ministers claimed it would undermine the policy of ending free movement of citizens after Brexit.

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