On 7 July 2022, the House of Lords is scheduled to debate the following question for short debate:

The Earl of Clancarty (Crossbench) to ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve the ability of musicians and other creative professionals from the UK to work and tour in the European Union.

1. How important is touring to the UK music industry?

UK Music, an umbrella organisation that represents the collective interests of other music bodies, has said that UK music is a £5.8bn industry which supports 200,000 jobs. Jobs range from music creators (including over 50,000 UK artists) and their ecosystems, music venue and touring staff and employees of record labels, music publishers, music streaming services and collecting societies. UK Music says that the industry generates £2.9bn in exports, and that the European Union is a key market in those exports.

In 2020, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee heard evidence that musicians had become increasingly reliant on touring and live-music income, with witnesses suggesting it generated approximately 70 percent of a musician’s revenue. The committee noted that within that, touring in Europe was an important source of revenue. In addition, several contributors to the inquiry argued that the music industry has a role in the UK’s soft power and improves the perception of the UK globally.

2. How has the situation changed following Brexit?

Since the UK left the European Union, rules allowing musicians and other creative professionals to tour in the EU have become more restrictive; they no longer have free movement rights to travel and work across the EU which they did when the UK was an EU member state.

The UK–EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) did not include any specific provisions regarding short-term travel for creative professionals or associated technical and support staff. The House of Commons DCMS Committee has argued that this has “created barriers affecting both the movement of musicians and their supporting ecosystem (in the form of visas and work permits) and the movement of goods such as equipment and merchandise”.

Since 1 January 2021, UK musicians must comply with regulations in each of the 27 EU member states regarding work and travel. Drawing on the experiences of their members, the Incorporated Society of Musicians and the Musicians’ Union noted in March 2021 that visa and work permit requirements and costs differ from country to country and by the length and purpose of the stay. They said that applications often require additional paperwork and expenditure such as multiple copies of documents, translation of documents, certification of documents, police certificates, and proof of higher education qualifications, income and health insurance.

Extra paperwork, such as a customs document known as an ATA Carnet may be required if equipment or instruments are transported unaccompanied (not in personal baggage or vehicle). Restrictions also impact the amount of travel that UK hauliers can undertake and how many different movements (cabotage) can be made within the EU. The cabotage rules for UK drivers in the EU are more restrictive than those enjoyed by EU member states travelling in the EU. While some of the restrictions do not apply to touring vehicles, known as “splitter-vans”, that transport both goods and people, they do apply to vans transporting only goods.

In contrast, the UK does not have work permits. Instead, the UK’s domestic rules allow musicians, entertainers and artists from non-visa national countries, such as EU member states and the US for:

During a virtual roundtable held on 20 January 2021 with music industry leaders, Oliver Dowden, the then secretary of state for culture, media and sport, asked them to use their “star power” to lobby the EU for reciprocal arrangements.

3. Impact of the changes

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.

The potential impact on the sector of the changes was referenced in evidence given to the House of Commons Petitions Committee in February 2021. An online survey on the arrangements for artists and professionals touring in the EU garnered over 15,000 responses. The committee’s survey found that:

  • Almost 100% of respondents who identified as music and/or performing arts fans said that they ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ that they are concerned about the survival of the music and performing arts industries as a whole and people’s jobs.
  • 81% of respondents said they were ‘very likely’ or ‘likely’ to stop touring Europe as a result of the changes.
  • 79% said that they were ‘extremely worried’ or ‘very worried’ about the future of their job or career in light of the new rules.
  • 60% of respondents answered ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ when asked if they were considering changing their career in light of the changes.
  • 50% expected they’d have to reduce the size of their touring party when touring Europe in future, resulting in job losses.

The survey came in response to an online petition, which called on the government to negotiate visa-free work permits for touring professionals and artists and received over 286,000 signatures. The committee debated the petition on 8 February 2021.

In May 2021, the Musicians’ Union and the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) published results of a joint survey which, they said, revealed how performers were considering moving to Europe or changing career due to the extra costs of touring after Brexit. Among the findings were that: only 43% of musicians were still planning tours or shows in the EU in the future; 42% of musicians would consider relocating in order to continue working; and 21% were considering a change of career. Musicians’ Union General Secretary Horace Trubridge called on the prime minister to step in and “sort this mess out now”.

The House of Commons DCMS Committee, reporting in July 2021, argued that the changes to performers’ ability to work and travel in the EU had imposed a “financial burden” which would “impact performers’ most important source of income”.

In March 2022, the charity Help Musicians announced details of a new £250,000 fund to provide financial support for touring musicians, with artists eligible to receive up to £5,000 financial support each. The funding was expected to help cover a wide range of touring expenses and international administration fees (such as visas and carnets). In addition, Help Musicians also sought to provide advice to musicians by funding 30-minute consultations with Viva La Visa, a service pioneered by the ISM and the Musicians’ Union.

Reporting in January 2022, the NME highlighted frustration from the music industry at the perceived inaction of the UK government. David Martin, CEO of the musicians’ body the Featured Artists Coalition, told the NME that there was a lack of engagement from government. He claimed that the breakthroughs to address the problems were “driven by the industry, same for touring with splitter vans. The government keep claiming victories for things they’ve done no work on”.

4. What is the government’s position?

The government has said that it recognised “the uncertainty and concerns felt by our musicians and the creative sectors”, arguing that “the government as a whole have worked very hard to support them”. Speaking to the House of Commons Liaison Committee on 24 March 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that he shared “the frustration of the sector […] we must fix this”. He argued that the government was working “flat out bilaterally with each individual government” to try and improve the situation.

Responding to a debate on the subject in November 2021, DCMS Minister Julia Lopez reiterated the government position that the EU was to blame for a lack of agreement on visa-free travel for musicians, stating:

In the negotiations for the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU, we sought to ensure that touring artists and their support staff did not need work permits to perform in the EU. However, those proposals were rejected.

This is something which the EU has disputed. In January 2021, the BBC quoted the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier saying that from March 2020, the EU had made “fairly ambitious proposals in terms of mobility, including for specific categories such as journalists, performers, musicians and others” but the UK had not accepted them.

More recently, the government has summarised work it had undertaken to clarify arrangements on visas, movement of goods and haulage, including through bilateral engagement with member states, stating:

We have taken steps to support specialist concert hauliers, and worked across government and with industry to develop guidance including ‘landing pages’ on GOV.UK specifically for touring musicians and other creative sectors.

We have clarified existing arrangements and established that:

  • Nearly all member states offer visa and work permit free routes for musicians and creative performers. This includes, following extensive engagement by the government and the creative sector, Spain and most recently Greece, who announced a visa and work permit free route in June 2022;
  • Portable musical instruments, carried or in a vehicle, can be transported cost-free and should not require ATA Carnets; and
  • Small ‘splitter vans’ are not subject to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement limits around ‘haulage for the creative sectors’ and ‘cross trade’. In addition, the Department for Transport is implementing dual registration to support specialist hauliers, meaning they can benefit from more generous market access and cabotage arrangements in GB and the EU.

The government raised touring with the European Commission at the first meeting of the UK-EU Partnership Council in June 2021. We continue to work with the few remaining member states that do not allow any visa or permit free touring to encourage them to make touring easier.

Spain and Greece were amongst EU member states the government said in October 2021 it had approached for discussions over visa and permit-free touring. The others were Croatia, Portugal, Bulgaria and Cyprus. The government said the other 20 EU member states had confirmed they offered visa and permit-free routes for UK musicians and performers, although the duration of a visit permitted under these schemes varies from member state to member state.

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Cover image: Acoustic guitar photo created by master1305 on freepik