LONDON – U.K. artists can once again tour large parts of Europe without the need of visas or work permits, after the British government secured agreements with 19 EU member states, including major live music markets Germany and France.
Under deals the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said on Wednesday (Aug. 4) that it had agreed to, U.K. musicians and performers will not need visas or work permits for “short-term tours.” The DCMS did not outline how long “short-term” would be, presumedly leaving it up to host nations to decide.
But the agreements will ease restrictions preventing the free movement of U.K. musicians across European borders which have been in place since the United Kingdom officially left the European Union on Jan. 31, 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic and accompanying shutdown of the live music industry have masked many of the problems created by Brexit for the live-music sector. And fears have lingered about extra customs checks and performers and crews requiring visa and work permits for when European touring does resume.
According to a survey conducted by the Musicians’ Union and Incorporated Society of Musicians in April and May, 77% of U.K. musicians expected their earnings in Europe to decrease when touring resumes due to additional Brexit-related red tape and touring costs.
In January, over 100 acts, including Elton John, Ed Sheeran and Radiohead, signed an open letter to the British government saying it had “shamefully failed” them with the EU trade deal that was finalized on Dec. 24 by not securing visa-free touring for U.K. musicians in Europe.
An online petition calling for a Europe-wide visa-free work permit for U.K. artists drew over 280,000 signatures, including those of Dua Lipa, Louis Tomlinson and the Scottish rock band Biffy Clyro, and led to a Parliament debate in February.
Prior to today’s announcement, France had already said it would not require permits or visas from U.K. acts, provided visitors don’t stay longer than 90 days.
Along with Germany and France, the countries that have confirmed free movement of British musicians across borders are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden.
The DCMS said it was “actively engaging” with the remaining eight EU Member States that do not currently allow visa and permit free touring — Spain, Croatia, Greece, Portugal, Bulgaria, Romania, Malta and Cyprus — and called on them to reciprocate the U.K.’s own regulations, which allow touring performers and support staff to visit for up to three months without a visa.
“We recognize challenges remain around touring, and we are continuing to work closely with the industry,” DCMS said in a statement.
The government department has yet to clarify what impact the agreements will have on the transportation of equipment and merchandise across EU borders, and whether carnets — essentially passports for goods, costing 360 euros ($490) a year — will still be required.
Also unresolved are post-Brexit “cabotage” rules that require haulers to return to their home base in the EU or the United Kingdom after making three stops in either market. The regulations could have a major financial impact on bigger tours that use multiple trucks — not just for British artists, but for all European treks that begin in the United Kingdom.
“It remains that the U.K.’s music industry is in a far less advantageous position now than it was pre-January,” says a spokesperson for the #LetTheMusicMove campaign, which was launched in June in response to Brexit-related touring issues.
The government’s statement that it has secured “visa-free” touring with 19 EU countries “is nothing more than we already knew,” the spokesperson says, and fails to provide answers around touring in almost a third of EU countries.
LetTheMusicMove is calling for a country-by-country breakdown of the exact requirements for touring performers and crew across all 27 EU member states.
Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, chief executive of umbrella organization UK Music, tweeted that the government’s progress report was “encouraging,” but said it was vital that more work is done to “remove the practical barriers currently impacting musicians who need to work across the EU.”