MPs Join Forces To Warn Top Musicians Could Disappear Unless EU Touring Issues Fixed

MPs from across the political divide joined forces to warn top artists could fail to emerge in future unless the Government resolved EU touring issues facing musicians and crew.

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19.11.2021: MPs from across the political divide joined forces to warn top artists could fail to emerge in future unless the Government resolved EU touring issues facing musicians and crew.

They raised their fears in a House of Commons debate on Thursday following a sustained #LetTheMusicMove campaign from across the music industry to highlight the problems.

Since Covid restrictions have eased, the true extent of the barriers facing musicians and crew trying to tour the EU has become clear.  

Costly visas and work permits, the impact of cabotage laws governing transport, carnets and the red tape facing exporters are among the issues highlighted by UK Music, which has warned of the problems since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016. 

In the debate, Labour MP Florence Eshalomi told how the fact that David Bowie, who used to live in her Vauxhall constituency, had been able to tour freely across Europe had played a part in helping him to bring down the Berlin Wall.

She said Bowie had grown up in Brixton before living in Berlin for three years and added: “During that time, some of you may remember, he recorded Heroes. A song telling the tale of lovers outside the Berlin Wall at a time when young people, as young as 18, were shot for simply trying to cross the border.

“A decade later David performed an emotional performance of Heroes close enough to East Berlin Border, near the border, for thousands of young people on the other side to listen and sing along.

Florence Eshalomi said when Bowie died in 2016, the German Foreign Office paid tribute to the star by “linking his performance and praising David for the work in bringing down the wall”.

Shadow culture minister Alex Sobel agreed with Ms Eshalomi and asked: “Will we see more artists like him if we don’t resolve this issue?”

Conservative MP and chairman of the DCMS Select Committee Julian Knight said much of the trucking industry that UK musicians had previously relied on had already moved to Holland. 

He added: “Although touring is not taking place at scale, the planning that goes into touring is taking place right now. It is necessary to get the rules changed now, and not when we discover we do not have an industry left.”

Labour MP and former Cabinet Minister Harriet Harman said: “The music sector is important to the UK, both culturally and economically. It accounts for nearly 200,000 jobs and, at least before covid, it was worth £5.8 billion, £2.9 billion of which was generated in export revenue, with the EU being by far the biggest market. 

“A survey conducted just before covid showing that 44% of musicians received up to half their earnings in the EU. Our music sector financially depends on touring in the EU.”

Ms Harman, who secured the debate with Conservative MP David Warburton, warned: “If the Government doesn’t move quickly some organisations will become unviable, some musicians at the top of their career will feel their best option is to relocate to Europe.

“We don’t want them to have to do that and many of the next generation of musicians will never have the opportunity to get into the profession, to develop their career, without the financial and artistically important benefits of working in Europe.”

Ms Harman highlighted the calls for Government action on the issue, saying: “I hope the Minister will recognise the weight of opinion, which includes Sir Elton John, Sir Simon Rattle, Howard Goodall, Sting, Judith Weir, Nicola Benedetti, Ed Sheeran, the Sex Pistols, Roger Daltrey, Bob Geldof, Brian May and many more.”

She added: “I pay tribute to the work done by the organisations demanding Government action: the Musicians’ Union, UK Music, the Association of British Orchestras, BECTU, the Incorporated Society of Musicians and Carry on Touring.”

Conservative MP and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Music David Warburton spoke ahead of an inquiry that the APPG he leads is about to start which will look at the issues.

He warned: “If we do not solve the issues that the industry is experiencing, we will not only harm ourselves and the industry through even more unnecessary stress and job losses to the EU, but we will lose talent, lose our influence, lose our upper hand and—importantly—lose our leadership on the international stage.”

Labour MP Kerry McCarthy raised UK Music’s call for a derogation from cabotage for all trucks used for cultural events. 

Labour MP and senior DCMS Select Committee member Kevin Brennan said: “The industry brings immense prestige to this country in the soft power it exerts, as well as in the hard-line economic benefits we get from it.”

He reminded MP of the Prime Minister’s pledge that he would “strain every sinew” to fix the problem which remained unresolved. 

SNP MP John Nicolson revived a point made by Sir Elton John earlier this year about the threat that problems over EU touring posed to the UK’s talent pipeline. 

He said: For wealthy artists, this is manageable, but for our new talent it is not. Music is perhaps these islands’ greatest export, but if we lock young artists out of much of Europe, they will miss a vital market.”

In response to the MPs, DCMS Minister Julia Lopez said: “Throughout this year my Department has been working very hard to support the touring sector by clarifying arrangements, helping the sector to adapt and, where possible, looking at what we can do unilaterally and with EU member states to make things much easier.”

The minister confirmed there were still issues over touring in several EU nations, saying: “At present, six EU member states do not offer visa or work permit-free touring. We have lobbied and will continue to lobby those countries to allow creative professionals to tour easily.”

She concluded by pledging to continue working with UK Music and others to fix the issue. 

The Minister said: “I will continue to work with Departments, the creative industries trade and investment board, and sector representatives, such as UK Music, to see what more can be done to help the industries adapt to these new arrangements with the EU.

“I want to see UK creatives tour and perform in the EU not just for our musicians but because they have so much to offer people in member states, and I hope we can make sure that can happen.”

Earlier this week, Spain scrapped its post-Brexit visa requirements for British touring performers in a major win for UK Music and the industry. 

The Spanish government said British musicians and their crews will no longer require visas to tour Spain for fewer than 90 days in each 180-day period.

Brexit negotiations ended without a deal for business purposes, including touring. Since then, the U.K. has tried to remove the requirement for visas and work permits by negotiating separately with each EU nation.

You can read the full House of Commons debate here.

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