On Thursday 28 January 2021, Lord German is due to ask Her Majesty’s Government “what assessment has been made of the impact of the United Kingdom–European Union Trade and Cooperation Agreement on musicians and musical enterprises seeking to work and tour in the European Union?”

What does the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement mean for UK musicians in the EU?

Under the UK-EU Trade Cooperation Agreement, which came into force on 1 January 2021, musical acts no longer have guaranteed visa-free travel across Europe to give paid performances. Generally UK citizens can travel to the EU without a visa for 90 days in a 180-day period, but there may be restrictions on the types of business-related activity they can undertake while there. Each EU member state can set its own requirements for paid work, for example a musician would have to apply for a permit to perform in Germany or Spain, but not to perform in France or the Netherlands.

In addition, musicians may have to complete additional paperwork, which may incur costs, in order to transport their instruments and equipment. This may include applying for an EORI (Economic Operators Registration and Identification) number if travelling with merchandise to sell or completing a CITES Musical Instrument Certificate (MIC) if an instrument is subject to endangered species regulations, for example if it contains ivory.

What happened during negotiations?

Both the UK Government and the EU have said that they offered proposals to maintain visa-free arrangements for musicians, but that they could not reach an agreement.

In March 2020, the EU published its draft legal text which proposed exemptions from visa requirements for certain categories of travellers, for 90 days out of 180 days at a time. These categories were:

  • businesspersons;
  • sportspersons or artists performing an activity on an ad hoc basis;
  • journalists; and
  • intra-corporate trainees.

It has been reported that the EU considered its proposals a “standard” element of agreements it usually negotiates with third countries. On 15 January 2021, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said that the UK Government had rejected these proposals.

The UK Government reportedly proposed visa-free arrangements for musicians for 30 days, but full details of the UK’s position have not been made public. In a statement to NME, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, said that under the UK’s proposal “musicians, artists, entertainers and support staff would have been captured through the list of permitted activities for short-term business visitors”.

On 14 January 2021, the Guardian reported that:

The EU declined the UK’s offer of 30 days’ visa-free work for EU musicians on the grounds that this is the UK’s existing standard policy and offered no added value to its members, and because it offered significantly less than the EU proposal at the mobility negotiation.

What have the UK Government said about the EU’s proposals?

Responding to a question on the EU’s proposals in the House of Lords on 19 January 2021, the Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Baroness Barran, said that “the EU tabled text regarding the paid activities that can be conducted without a visa”.

She went on to outline the Government’s issues with the EU’s proposals, stating they:

  • covered only ad hoc performances;
  • were non-binding;
  • did not include touring or technical staff; and
  • did not address work permits.

During a debate in the House of Commons on 19 January 2021 on the same issue, the Minister for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dinenage, outlined additional concerns of the UK Government. She said:

The proposals would have enshrined permanent visa-free short stays for all current and future EU citizens in the agreement, and that is not compatible with our manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders.

What are the rules for EU musicians performing in the UK?

As reported in NME on 13 January 2021, Oliver Dowden outlined the requirements for EU musicians coming to the UK. He said:

Artists, musicians, and entertainers from the EU don’t need a visa to give performances, take part in competitions or promotional activities. If they get paid, they can stay for up to one month, and if they are only claiming expenses or prize money, they can stay for up to six months.

During a virtual roundtable held on 20 January 2021 with music industry leaders, Mr Dowden asked them to use their “star power” to lobby the EU for reciprocal arrangements.

What has happened recently?

As part of the meeting with industry on 20 January 2021, Oliver Dowden announced a working group had been set up to find solutions to the issues raised. He also said that the UK Government would consider giving support to artists, such as helping to organise tours outside Europe.

What have commentators said?

UK Music, an umbrella organisation that represents the collective interests of other music bodies, has said that UK music is a £5.8 billion industry which supports 200,000 jobs and generates £2.9 billion in exports. It has argued the UK Government should support the music industry in the same way it has supported the UK fishing industry in helping it deal with new export requirements. The Government announced on 19 January 2021 a £23 million support scheme for seafood exporters across the UK.

Commenting after the Brexit deal was passed in Parliament on 30 December 2020, the Musicians’ Union said that the deal was “another devasting blow” to the industry that was already dealing with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It raised concerns with work permits and additional costs for transporting instruments and other equipment, and said that musicians should be included under the exemptions for short term business visitors, which they say would allow them to work for up to 90 days in the EU. It has ultimately called for exemptions from work permits for musicians.

On 20 January 2021, various musicians including Sir Elton John, Ed Sheeran and Judith Weir signed a letter which was published in the Times. It said that “the deal done with the EU has a gaping hole where the promised free movement for musicians should be: everyone on a European music tour will now need costly work permits and a mountain of paperwork for their equipment”. It went on to say:

We urge the government to do what it said it would do and negotiate paperwork-free travel in Europe for British artists and their equipment. For the sake of British fans wanting to see European performers in the UK and British venues wishing to host them, the deal should be reciprocal.

A petition calling for a Europe-wide visa-free work permit for touring professionals and artists has reached over 277,000 signatures, as of 21 January 2021.

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Cover image by Marcus Neto on Unsplash.