Simple change to UK immigration rules can stop Brexit killing off permit-free music tours, inquiry told

Exempting EU artists from need for ‘certificate of sponsorship’ could be ‘game changer’ as protests grow

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 04 February 2021 18:32 GMT

The disaster of Brexit killing off permit-free tours of the EU by musicians can be averted with a simple change to UK immigration rules, an inquiry has been told.

The Home Office is being urged to exempt EU artists from requiring a “certificate of sponsorship” to come to the UK, which would fit with the Brussels offer that ministers controversially rejected.

Ian Smith, the founder of the campaign group UK Europe Artswork, told MPs the solution could easily “sit on top” of the UK’s post-Brexit rules if it adopted the pre-authorisation system British visitors to the EU face from next year.

Arguing it “could be a game changer”, Mr Smith said: “By simply having a tick box on either system, you could be an exempted occupation.”

Noting the EU had offered exemptions for artists, he added: “If the UK could offer the same thing, without a certificate of sponsorship, we would then instantly get rid of that requirement for a work permit in the UK and a work permit in any of the EU 27.”

Asked why the UK was not considering such a plan, Mr Smith said: “I can’t think of a good reason,” arguing ministers would still be able to claim they were taking “control of our borders”.

The plan comes after ministers were fiercely criticised for misleading MPs about the failure to meet their pre-Brexit promise that visa- and permit-free touring was not at risk.

Leading musicians, including Elton John, Sting and Liam Gallagher, signed a protest letter warning careers and a successful export industry were in jeopardy.

However, Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, ruled out reopening talks and told musicians to lobby EU governments themselves to ease the paperwork – hinting at cash help to meet new costs.

But Mr Smith told the Commons petitions committee: “Money is not the problem – it’s about ease of access to the markets.”

The Independent revealed the UK had rejected the EU offer of 90-day permit-free travel for musicians – despite blaming Brussels for the crisis – which ministers later attributed to the Brexit promise to end free movement.

However, the claim sparked bewilderment, because only certain professions would be exempted from the red tape.

Meanwhile, the UK’s new tougher rules require touring musicians to provide a certificate of sponsorship and letter of invitation from an event organiser.

Pete Wishart, an SNP and former member of the band Runrig, praised the “valuable idea” but feared it would run up against ministers’ “obsession” with being tough on immigration.

Mr Smith argued another simple change to UK rules could overcome the problem of “carnets” being required to transport instruments across the continent.

But he acknowledged the obstacle of “cabotage” rules, which mean UK hauliers can make only two stops in the EU, barring them from wider tours.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in