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EU: Visa-free Short-term Travel Mobility

Volume 806: debated on Wednesday 21 October 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are seeking a reciprocal agreement on visa-free short-term travel mobility in their negotiations for the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.

My Lords, both sides have committed to providing visa-free arrangements for tourists and short-term business visitors. The EU will grant UK nationals visa-free access for short-term visits, subject to reciprocity. This means that UK business visitors and tourists would not need a visa when travelling to the Schengen area for short stays of up to 90 days in every 180-day period. We have announced that we will treat EU citizens as non-visa nationals for the purposes of tourism and holidays after the end of the transition period.

My Lords, this affects not only tourists but those working in the creative industries, including visual artists, writers and musicians who wish to spend informal extended periods abroad. Do the Government agree that it is deeply unfair that British citizens cannot spend a summer or winter in a European country visa-free—indeed, they cannot return for three months—while Europeans can stay in the UK for up to six months at a time? What plans do the Government have to seek a reciprocal agreement on this, considering that the phrase “at least 90 days” in the EU negotiating document is an open door to further negotiation?

My Lords, the noble Earl raises a very important point. The Government certainly recognise the importance of tourism and travel for the creative industries. We set out our position on mode 4 in the approach publication at the start of negotiations and we are committed to seeking protection for exactly the kind of persons the noble Earl refers to.

My Lords, the posted workers’ directive particularly helped our travel business, and some 15,000 UK residents are employed in an EU member state. As the Government will not continue this agreement after December, which risks thousands of jobs, particularly those of young people, will they extend the reciprocal youth mobility scheme, which enables young workers to move between signatory countries to find work for up to two years, and might also help musicians?

My Lords, at the moment we are continuing discussions in this area. I promise to advise the noble Baroness opposite on the specific point that she raises very shortly.

My Lords, Michel Barnier has labelled some of the United Kingdom’s proposals as “freedom of movement for service suppliers”. Can the Minister confirm that we are seeking only to lock in, on a reciprocal basis, some arrangements that the United Kingdom already offers to third-country nationals, and that therefore this characterisation is simply wrong?

My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness to her place. She is exactly right; the comment underlines my point that we are seeking to negotiate arrangements which run very much in the direction that the House is asking for. For example, we are seeking measures on contractual services suppliers who provide services to a client in another jurisdiction. I cannot go through all our mode 4 suggestions, but they are on the table and we very much hope that they will be picked up.

My noble friend the Minister will know that, currently, eligible applicants can work in most jobs under the simplified youth mobility scheme but cannot work as young professional sports coaches unless qualified in the UK. Will he look again at this prohibition so as to encourage young, recently retired international sports men and women to come to this country as coaches to support our elite development pathways after the transition period?

My Lords, again, that is another specific and important point which is covered under this heading for discussion. I undertake to keep the House and my noble friend informed, in particular in relation to sport, as he has asked.

My Lords, according to the government website, UK citizens visiting EU countries from 1 January will have to have at least six months left on their passport, show a return or onward ticket, show they have enough money for their stay, use separate lanes from EU/EEA and Swiss nationals and limit their visit to 90 days in any 180 days. EU citizens travelling to the UK from 1 January do not need to worry about when their passport will expire, show a return or onward ticket, or prove they have enough money for their stay. They can continue to use the e-passport gates at UK airports, as before, and will be able to visit for six months and then come back the next day for another six. Who is really taking back control of our borders, the UK or the EU?

My Lords, I simply say to the noble Lord, who represents a party that has been very critical of this Government’s attitude to European nationals, that the position he outlined demonstrates the openness of the future Britain.

My Lords, conferences and short-term visits as part of international collaboration are engine rooms of scientific discovery. They are vital for exchanging ideas, forming relationships and building careers. I realise that Covid is temporarily suspending some of this activity, but our immigration system must be fit for the future and there is consensus on the long-term benefit of researcher mobility for the UK’s science and innovation sector. So can the Minister please assure me that the Government will seek a light-touch, reciprocal arrangement, allowing researchers in innovations to travel for short, work-related visits, preferably visa free?

Yet again, as other noble Lords in this short exchange have done, my noble friend raises an important point. In negotiations, we are seeking a reciprocal agreement that would bind both parties to agree a list of business activities that could be performed in either party without a work permit on a short-term basis, as she asks. Unfortunately, we are unable to comment on the detail of these arrangements, as discussions are ongoing.

My Lords, the music industry should not be viewed within a silo, nor as a bolt-on afterthought, but as an integral part of traditional business with a Pandora’s box of international engagement needing to be prised open. Given the multidisciplinary importance of performance skills to combine physical presence and future virtual technologies, might a partial approach lie in embracing an innovative online environment to ensure that sectoral infrastructure is developed for this new world in which we find ourselves?

My Lords, the noble Viscount raises an interesting suggestion. The Government recognise the importance of touring for UK musicians, and not only them. I have referred to some areas in which we are continuing efforts to negotiate a better solution, but I assure the noble Viscount and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, that musicians are very much in our mind.

My Lords, I am not clear why the Minister’s initial reply was about tourists, because this Question is about people who want to work. The ONS has found that arts, entertainment and recreation, including music, has lost over half its revenue and nearly three in five of its jobs due to Covid. So the hit from Brexit is kicking a sector when it is very down. How are the Government fighting to achieve a multi-entry Schengen visa for people such as musicians, and less bureaucracy for musicians’ instruments than they are set to face—whereas of course they have free movement under existing arrangements?

My Lords, the original Question was about visa-free and short-term travel; tourism is certainly germane to the Question and I am sorry if that was unsatisfactory to the noble Baroness. I have referred to our efforts on short-term visits in relation to business activities. Our offer on mode 4 is extremely generous and we continue to impress on EU negotiators that the agreement we are proposing is very much in their workers’ interests as well as our own.

My Lords, what efforts are Her Majesty’s Government making to ensure that the visa-free short-term travel arrangements will not be used by traffickers to get their victims into the UK, because it looks as though there will be no effective checks at the borders?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that the UK authorities will remain eternally vigilant against this bestial criminal activity.

My Lords, I draw attention to my registered interests. Does the Minister accept that performing musicians need the facility to travel at short notice to work in other parts of our continent? We are repeatedly told that the soft power of cultural exchanges is the UK’s strongest lever in today’s international world. Why are the Government willing to contemplate a no-deal Brexit which will strangle that influence within the European setting?

My Lords, I have referred more than once to the Government’s efforts to assist short-term activity in the course of the discussions we are having on mode 4. Obviously, movement and activity within different member states is an issue for them and for the EU. I repeat to the House that this is an important area. I believe that we have made generous, important and significant proposals and, as I say, discussions are ongoing.