Skip to main content

UK Musicians: EU Visa Arrangements

Volume 809: debated on Wednesday 20 January 2021

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Tuesday 19 January.

“This Government recognise the importance of the UK’s world-leading cultural and creative industries. We recently demonstrated that commitment by providing an unprecedented £1.57 billion package of support to help them through the Covid-19 pandemic. It is therefore entirely consistent that, during the negotiations with the EU, we pushed for ambitious arrangements allowing performers and artists to work across Europe.

Our proposals, which were informed by our extensive consultation and engagement with the UK’s cultural and creative industries, would have allowed UK musicians and other cultural touring professionals to travel and perform in the UK and the EU more easily, without the need for work permits. Regrettably, those mutually beneficial proposals were rejected by the EU. As a result, UK cultural professionals seeking to tour in the EU will be required to check domestic immigration and visitor rules for each member state in which they intend to tour. Although some member states allow touring without a permit, others will require a pre-approved visa and/or a work permit.

It is absolutely vital that we now support our touring sectors to understand the new rules associated with working and travelling in the EU. We are delivering an extensive programme of engagement with the sector to help them understand any new requirements. That includes working with Arts Council England and various other sector bodies, to help distil and clarify the new rules.

As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has already made very clear, we will also look at whether we can work with our partners in EU member states to find ways to make life easier for those working in the creative industries in our respective countries. In the meantime, we will continue close dialogue with the creative and cultural sectors, to understand the ongoing impacts and ensure that they have the right support at the right time to continue to thrive.”

My Lords, despite the helpful exchanges on this topic yesterday, this seems to be about how DCMS can square the Home Office red lines on freedom of movement. We need greater transparency. Will the Minister place copies of all correspondence between the EU and the UK on this issue in the Library? Secondly, we need trust. Can she confirm that the Government will take full account of the views of the ISM and others that the short-term business visitor model is not appropriate and that any final agreement for visitors from the EU to the UK should be based on a 90-day permitted paid engagement model? Finally, we need a plan. Will the Minister spell out what the original UK proposal was and commit to writing to us about what the new negotiating objective will be—assuming that the EU’s door is indeed still open?

I thank the noble Lord for his questions. I do not think the red lines were between DCMS and the Home Office; I think they were between the UK and the EU. We proposed a tailored deal for musicians and other cultural professionals and the EU did not accept it. On the correspondence and the discussions, my noble friend the Minister for Digital and Culture said yesterday in the other place that she would talk to BEIS and Home Office colleagues with a view to publishing the details of those discussions. On the noble Lord’s final point, we are consulting extensively with the sector to understand what it needs to be able to thrive once we emerge from the pandemic.

My Lords, that explanation just does not fit with all the briefings that have gone on on both sides of the channel about what really happened. What really happened is that the Government were inflexible in the TCA for fear of the European Research Group and other Brexit zealots anxious to protect the purity of Brexit. The Government have got to go back to the table on this. My advice to musicians would be to mobilise the millions of supporters, particularly among the young, who should be outraged at the betrayal of this important sector.

I am surprised at the noble Lord’s remarks, because our inflexibility, as he describes it, was simply that we tried very hard in the negotiations to stand up for Britain’s brilliant cultural and creative sectors, and to reflect their request to us about what they needed from the deal. Perhaps the remark about inflexibility could be pointed elsewhere.

My Lords, the EU has visa-waiver agreements in place with some 27 countries that allow 90 days’ visa-free travel within any 180 days and that specifically permit artists to undertake paid work on an ad hoc basis. In contrast to responses yesterday, an EU official quoted today has said that the phrase “ad hoc” covers touring and could, by negotiation, have been extended to support staff. Given that, can the Minister say whether the Government will move quickly to explore a similar agreement for the UK alongside the trade deal? Does she agree that taking back control of our borders was surely never intended to leave UK artists with less freedom to pursue their craft than their creative peers in, say, Tonga, St Lucia or the Federated States of Micronesia?

I can only reiterate to the noble Baroness that our understanding of the EU’s offer is not as she describes it. I also repeat the words of my honourable friend the Minister for Culture yesterday, when she said that, if there was an open door to talk about these things, she would be the first person through it. However, I do not think that we should raise people’s hopes about this. As the sector has said, it needs clarity, not recrimination, and that is what we are working on.

Does the Minister recognise the huge value of music globally to mental and physical human health? As that has been a matter of profound importance during the pandemic, as it will be following it, this really matters. If so, will she persuade the Government and all departments to prioritise music as one of the major attractions of the UK globally? We are a fount of music, or the head for music, in terms of performance, practising, invention and teaching, and this could be one of the biggest attractions to the UK from people around the world.

My noble friend makes some powerful points. She is quite right that UK music is one of our great success stories, generating almost £6 billion in GVA annually. In relation to mental and physical health, we have worked together with Arts Council England, the National Academy for Social Prescribing and NHS England to set up the thriving communities fund, which will bring all forms of art to communities to help them recover from Covid.

My Lords, many, if not most, musicians are freelance or self-employed workers. As such, they are among the 3 million taxpayers who have fallen through the net of the Government’s financial support during the pandemic. Will the Government and the Minister please explain why they cannot at least support musicians in this way?

I understand the noble Baroness’s concerns in this area, and we definitely continue to explore routes through it. However, I reassure her that direct funding has gone from Arts Council England to freelancers and, furthermore, to some of the benevolent societies that support them.

My Lords, it is very depressing that the careers of thousands of British-based musicians have been affected by the Government’s devotion to ending free movement. I have no doubt at all that there is blame on both sides, but we are where we are. I am sure that Ministers will attempt, as best they can, to renegotiate this lamentable situation. Perhaps I may make a practical suggestion. Given that when our musicians travel to Europe, they are now in the same position as when they travel to the United States, will the Minister have a conversation with her ministerial colleagues about committing resources in terms of both officials and money to create an online one-stop shop to help musicians who still, amazingly, might wish to tour in Europe to navigate the new bureaucracy?

I thank my noble friend for his suggestion. We are exploring all ways of making this as simple and straightforward as possible, but he will be aware that each member state has its own regulations in this regard. However, our ambition is clear.

My Lords, I draw attention to my registered interests. Does the Minister accept that this wholly avoidable mess turns the clock back half a century, leaves musicians, particularly freelance soloists, with unnecessary obstacles to working professionally in EU countries, and imposes road blocks for European musicians wishing to perform in Britain? Is this not a narrow-minded approach that not only undermines our musicians and concert organisers but shows how inward-looking post-Brexit Britain is fast becoming?

I reassure the noble Lord that our negotiators did everything in their power to avoid the current situation. We are incredibly disappointed that the EU neither proposed nor would accept a tailored deal for musicians. We are trying to give those brilliant and talented people the clarity that they need to continue to thrive.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has often told the House—indeed, she has just done so again—that the Government are committed to supporting musicians, but I have to tell her from personal experience that they do not feel supported. They feel shocked and scared. The EU trade deal actively harms their interests, and they do not understand why. But since, as the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, has just said, we are where we are, will she confirm that the Government will now engage urgently in further negotiations with the EU and with member states to ensure that the livelihoods of UK musicians are not seriously damaged?

With regard to the noble Baroness’s broader point about support for musicians, the culture recovery fund has already dispersed over £168 million to more than 600 musical groups and venues, so I think that our support for musicians is clear. In terms of reopening negotiations with the EU, the noble Baroness’s party, and my own, very recently voted for the deal, which included all the points that we are discussing today. Our offer still stands but, in the meantime, we are pursuing simplification and clarification on a bilateral basis with individual member states.