Elton John has said the government "screwed up" by failing to reach an agreement with the EU for visa-free tours by British musicians and urged ministers to renegotiate the Brexit deal to avoid damaging the careers of a generation of artists.
The singer said Boris Johnson's negotiators either “didn’t care about musicians, or didn’t think about them, or weren't sufficiently prepared” when they struck an agreement with Brussels late last year without concessions for performers.
Last month The Independent revealed the government had turned down an offer from the EU allow visa-free tour access for musicians.
Now John, one of the biggest musical acts to emerge from the UK, has warned the lack of an accord will damage a generation of up-and-coming artists who face new paperwork and costs to perform in the EU.
“The situation we’re now in is ridiculous. Music is one of Britain’s greatest cultural exports”, he wrote in The Guardian. “It contributed £5.8bn to the British economy in 2019, but was left out of the Brexit trade negotiations when other industries weren’t.
“Workers from some professions are still allowed to travel on business without applying for a visa. But not musicians.
“Either the Brexit negotiators didn’t care about musicians, or didn’t think about them, or weren’t sufficiently prepared. They screwed up. It’s ultimately down to the British government to sort it out: they need to go back and renegotiate”.
He added his intervention was “not about Elton John” but instead about ensuring up-and-coming artists without access to the financial resources and team that he has been able to muster.
“If you hate every note I’ve recorded… you [still] need to support musicians’ ability to tour,” he added. “Because if Brexit prevents many new musicians from touring, the only artists who are going to have any meaningful kind of live career are big, august, mainstream artists like me. And, trust me, I don’t want that any more than you do.”
After initially claiming Brussels threw out a deal, the government acknowledged it did turn down a plan, as The Independent revealed – but has refused to explain the reasons for doing so.
A Downing Street spokesman said the offer “fell short” of what was required, but a source has said the reason was a fear it involved travel rights that undermined the aims of Brexit.
Culture minister Caroline Dinenage is set to face a grilling from MPs on the government’s provisions for artists looking to tour on the continent on Monday following a petition that has garnered more than 283,000 signatures in the wake of The Independent’s report.
Last month the Incorporated Society of Musicians condemned “needless confusion” and urged the government “to put this issue to bed”.
“It would be hugely welcomed by the music sector and fulfil the government’s own commitment made over many months to achieve frictionless work travel for musicians and other performers,” said Deborah Annetts, its chief executive.