The EU is to blame for “letting down music on both sides of the Channel” over a failure to grant visas to touring artists, the culture secretary has said.
Oliver Dowden today insisted that the government “fought to get a good deal for British music” but the EU had turned it down “repeatedly”.
“It did not propose and wouldn’t accept a tailored deal for musicians and artists,” he told NME. “I’m afraid it was the EU letting down music on both sides of the Channel – not us.”
The statement contradicts earlier reports that UK negotiators had turned down a proposal that would have exempted musicians from visa requirements for trips under 90 days.
The government has previously denied this, saying that “the door remains open” for further talks over the issue.
The UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with the bloc allows visa-free business travel for Brits in some industries, but this does not include touring musicians and their crews.
The omission, which could force artists to purchase work permits, has sparked fury among musicians, with UK Music warning it could have a “devastating impact” on the sector.
A petition calling for visa-free touring across Europe has racked up more than 250,000 signatures, including artists such as Laura Marling and Dua Lipa.
In a lengthy statement, Dowden blamed the lack of visa provisions on the EU, adding that “this outcome is regrettable but it doesn’t have to be final”.
“The treaty we negotiated has a review clause that allows us to revisit the list of permitted activities for short-term business visitors, but we shouldn’t have to wait for that if both sides can agree sooner to do the right thing for our talented artists,” he said.
“I’ll be making that point to my counterparts in Europe and I hope they change their minds.”
But an EU source said the UK refused to discuss both long and short-term mobility, including a reciprocal commitment to visa-free short-stay travel and a joint list of paid activity exemptions.
Instead it suggested a less comprehensive 30-day visa under which musicians may still have been liable for a visa or work permit, the source said. The EU declined this offer.
A European Commission spokesperson said: “The UK has chosen to no longer allow the free movement of EU citizens to the UK. It also refused to include a chapter on mobility in the Agreement.
“These choices inevitably mean that travel between the EU and the UK — including for business purposes — will no longer be as easy as it was while the UK was a Member State.”
In a statement earlier this week UK Music boss Jamie Njoku-Goodwin urged the two sides to reach an agreement, adding that a “blame game helps no one”.
The music industry has benefited from the government’s £1.57bn cultural recovery fund, which has helped to save some venues, such as the Cavern Club and Fabric, amid a sharp downturn sparked by the pandemic.
But British musicians — from Radiohead to the London Symphony Orchestra — also rely on touring as a key source of income.