Priti Patel warned her immigration crackdown will ‘cut the legs off’ the UK music industry

Home Office accused of refusing to listen to £111bn-a-year culture sector – just weeks after a minister admitted government must retain free movement

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 21 February 2020 08:15 GMT
Government sets out plans for a new points-based immigration system

Priti Patel’s immigration crackdown will “cut the legs off” the thriving UK music industry, a leading figure has said, warning that artists will be forced to cancel tours and small venues will be put in jeopardy.

In a blistering attack, the Incorporated Society of Musicians said the Home Office has turned its back on the creative arts – worth £111bn a year to the economy, similar to banking – and refused to listen to its pleas for help.

“Enormous” numbers of bands from EU countries will be shut out by the huge cost and frightening bureaucracy of performing, dealing a hammer blow to the venues that host them, it said.

Moreover, UK artists will feel the pain if Brussels slaps similar restrictions on tours to EU countries, in the post-Brexit trade talks that have already turned ugly.

“This is taking a shotgun and shooting ourselves in the foot,” the society’s chief executive, Deborah Annetts, told The Independent.

The harsh new rules have been brought in despite former culture minister Nigel Adams promising last month to shelter the creative industries from Brexit, saying: “It’s absolutely essential that free movement for artists is protected post-2020.”

Instead, in just 10 months’ time, anyone from the EU seeking to perform in the UK will need to:

* Apply for a visa to enter the UK, at a cost of £244 for each group member;

* Provide proof, 90 days before applying, that they have almost £1,000 in savings and so can support themselves, unless they are “A-rated”;

* Provide a certificate of sponsorship from an event organiser – who must take responsibility for them – or a letter of invitation in some circumstances.

It means the onerous paperwork that is already required of non-EU artists – and blamed for global stars being unable to perform at the Womad festival and others – will be imposed on EU musicians.

However, Ms Annetts absolved the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) of blame, revealing that it had “lost” a Whitehall battle with the hardline Home Office.

“The Home Office has failed to grasp that touring and the creative industries are not about immigration, but are a global industry in which people move around all the time,” she said.

“It’s been that way since the troubadours in Chaucer’s time – you picked up your lute and off you go.

“This will cut the legs off the bottom half of the music industry. And what is going to happen to our small venues who have to go through this process to bring artists across from the EU?”

Lifting the lid on a two-year battle, Ms Annetts said: “We really believed, for the first time, that the Home Office was listening, so what has been announced came as a total shock to us.”

On the need for proof of £1,000 in savings, she added: “That’s fine if you’re Bruce Springsteen but not if you’re a small rock band from Scandinavia trying to make it by playing in a few north London pubs.”

Pointing to a likely tit-for-tat crackdown by the EU, she warned: “They can’t think about this in isolation, they need to think about UK musicians who will want to tour Europe.

“This could be harming them in a very short time, which makes the policy so short-sighted. The Home Office just doesn’t get it.”

The criticism follows a fierce backlash against the crackdown, which was unveiled on Wednesday and will replace free movement with a minimum salary threshold of £25,600 for most workers.

It was branded “a disaster” by social-care leaders, who fear a deepening recruitment crisis, while business leaders warned of problems for companies in lower-wage parts of the UK.

Ms Patel was then ridiculed for claiming 8 million “economically inactive” Britons could plug the jobs gap, only for it to be pointed out that the vast majority are unpaid carers, the long-term sick, and students.

Mr Adams, who was replaced as culture minister by Caroline Dinenage last month, vowed weeks before the reshuffle to save free movement for artists, saying: “Touring is absolutely the lifeblood of the industry.”

The Incorporated Society of Musicians called for a two-year, multi-entry visa as a fallback, but that too was rejected.

A government spokesperson said: “Musicians and performers are a valued and important part of UK culture.

“The UK attracts world-class artists, entertainers and musicians and that’s not going to change under the new system.”

A spokesperson attempted to argue that the system would not change for artists despite the concerns raised.

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