Joint attack on behalf of musicians’ touring

Rival professional organisations the Musicians’ Union and the Incorporated Society of Musicians have joined forces to fight to free up touring options for their members in Europe.

Touring artists and especially musicians, often self-employed and freelance, have been hit by spiralling additional costs and red tape caused by the inability of the UK and European negotiators to reach an agreement.

The combined front is being formed as MPs prepare to debate a petition with almost 283,000 sgnatures, with the UK government due to meet EU representatives later this week to discuss touring by artists among other problems arising out of the Brexit agreement. Both organisations have already held high level discussions with UK politicians and civil servants.

“We are delighted to join with the Musicians’ Union to ensure that politicians listen to the concerns of our sector” said the ISM’s CEO Deborah Annetts. “We urge the UK government to take the necessary steps to ensure border arrangements after Brexit do not negatively impact the creative industries, harming both musicians’ livelihoods and the music industry itself. Collaborative solutions to address issues around visas, administrative and financial challenges are desperately needed for a sector which has been so badly affected by COVID-19. Now is the time for the UK and EU to come together to fix these problems and ensure that close cultural collaboration can continue after Brexit.”

The MU’s general secretary Horace Trubridge added: “We urgently need both the EU and the UK to agree provisions for musicians and crew that will avoid costly and complicated bureaucracy. As things stand, work visas, work permits, restrictions on haulage and uncertainty regarding carnets all present barriers for our world leading musicians. We were promised frictionless mobility for musicians and their crew and now we need the EU and the UK to deliver just that”.

Under existing terms each EU member state can now choose to require both a visa and a work permit when UK citizens enter for paid work, and although a number of EU countries offer exemptions for cultural activities many do not. It also makes performing at short notice in some countries virtually impossible. 

There is still uncertainty around transporting customs arrangements and whether some musicians will need to purchase a customs document (called an “ATA Carnet”) for at least £400. And new cabotage rules – the right to transport within a prescribed territory - make it much harder to organise tours.

Elton John, who has toured Europe regularly since the mid-1960s, writes in today’s The Guardian: “It’s absolutely vital for new artists to tour Europe… Touring Europe allows you to absorb different influences, understand different crowds and meet new musicians. It helps you get inside your art”.

The situation we are now in is ridiculous, he writes, with music one of Britain’s greatest cultural exports contributing £5.8bn to the British economy in 2019 alone, but left out of the Brexit negotiations. “Either the Brexit negotiators didn’t care about musicians, or didn’t think about them, or weren’t sufficiently prepared. They screwed up”.


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