UK government accused of more “spin and misinformation” over Brexit touring fiasco

Figures from the live music industry have hit back at the UK government for another “non-announcement” of “spin and misinformation”, while arguing that little-to-no progress is being made to solve the Brexit touring fiasco.

Criticism continues after the government jeopardised the future of touring for UK artists when the Brexit deal secured with the EU failed to negotiate visa-free travel and Europe-wide work permits for musicians and crew.

Problems remain 10 months on when it comes to new rules and red tape, creating huge costs to future live music tours of the continent for both musicians and crew – which could create a glass ceiling that prevents rising and developing talent from being able to afford to do so.

New Brexit rules have also seen a “massive” amount of jobs and taxable income lost to the EU due to it making touring “nigh-on impossible” for road crew. Cabotage rules currently mean that trucks travelling from the UK are only allowed to make one stop in an EU state before having just seven days to make a maximum of two more before returning home.

Back in August, the government ‘announced’ that “short term” visa-free travel without work permits will be allowed for musicians and performers in 19 European countries, while talks are ongoing with the remaining nations. This led to a huge backlash from the industry, who accused the government of “spin and meaningless posturing” given that these rules were already in place pre-Brexit, while no real negotiations had been made to solve the major issues. All of this is compounded by today’s report that one in three jobs in music were lost during the pandemic.

There is now more anger following another announcement, with the government claiming victory over 20 EU states after adding Romania to the list.

“DCMS had promised to clarify everything after all the spin of last time, and now they’ve just decided to come out with yet more spin,” Ian Smith of the #CarryOnTouring campaign and ukeartswork told NME. “This time, all they’ve done is change it from 19 to 20 countries after I told them that Romania had an allowance.

“It does not at all address the fact that nothing whatsoever has been done proactively in terms of creating any dialogue for bilateral agreements. They’ve merely repeated again what is true for all third country nationals across the world. It is not specific to the UK or UK creatives. These are the rules that have applied for years to all third country nationals. Confusion remains over rules for road crew. They haven’t lifted a finger in terms of anything in this so called ‘announcement’.”

Brexit tour summit
Musicians protesting against Brexit in 2019 (Picture: Richard Baker/Getty Images)

Calling on the government to “actually engage” to create meaningful solutions for creatives and support staff, Smith accused them of only presenting partial truths and leaving artists and their staff with a confusing and dangerous situation.

“What the government fails to mention when they talk about ‘visa-free touring’ is that in some countries, such as the Czech Republic, it’s only seven days in any one year that you’re allowed to work free. It’s 14 days in Sweden, 30 days in Poland, six out of 13 weeks in Benelux,” he said.

“They also don’t mention that in Belgium there are three different authorities, each giving different work permit allowances. They don’t mention that in Germany and France they’re up to 90 days in any one year, they don’t mention that in each and every country where there is visa and permit-free touring you have to report to the local authority if you are working there.”

Smith continued: “By excluding that information they fall back on to the old excuse of, ‘Well, we’re not here to give information for other governments’. They’re putting people at risk of going overseas and being fined. In France, all customs infractions are criminal offences – not civil. The HMRC and government are giving out partial information and being diplomatic with the truth about what’s happening on the ground with duplicate lists instead of Carnets which only work for the UK border.”

The XX perform live during a concert at the Astra Club on January 22, 2010 in Berlin, Germany.(Photo by Jakubaszek/Getty Images)
The XX perform live during a concert at the Astra Club on January 22, 2010 in Berlin, Germany.(Picture: Jakubaszek/Getty Images)

Ultimately, Smith said that nothing in the Brexit touring situation has changed since the industry was landed with a “no deal” back in January, and that the government continue to only relay what figures from the live music scene have been telling them all along. He argued that more bilateral talks, better information and a transitional fund were needed to help artists and their crew tour in Europe, as well as working to help with transport costs and moving merchandise between countries.

“The only benefit is that it’s given us all the chance to work out what we can’t do,” Smith added. “The government have managed to do something that has never been done before – which is manage to ally managers, labels, artists, crew and people from across our industry to really talk to each other.

“That’s never really happened before. In that sense, we are all united and totally committed to finding solutions to the terrible situation that we’re all in.”

Radiohead performs live during a concert at the Kindl Buehne Wuhlheide on September 29, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Jakubaszek/Redferns via Getty Images)
Radiohead performs live during a concert at the Kindl Buehne Wuhlheide on September 29, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Jakubaszek/Redferns via Getty Images)

This summer saw the launch of the #LetTheMusicMove campaign, with the likes of Wolf AliceIDLESPoppy Ajudha and Radiohead among the 200 artists calling upon the UK government to urgently take action to resolve the ‘No Deal’ that has landed upon British music. The campaign was headed by the Featured Artists Coalition, whose CEO David Martin told NME that the government’s latest release was “another exercise is obfuscation”.

“Having admitted that the previous announcement regarding EU touring was misleading, it’s now clear that there is a sustained campaign underway to spin the messaging that is being distributed to the music industry,” said Martin. “This won’t work.

“Government’s time would be better spent working on solutions to help us, rather than perpetuating the problems we continue to face by publishing incomplete and inaccurate information.”

Yannis Philippakis from Foals performs at L' Olympia on February 3, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Wolff - Patrick/Redferns)
Yannis Philippakis from Foals performs at L’ Olympia on February 3, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Wolff – Patrick/Redferns)

One artist who has been left angry and baffled by the government’s actions is Foals frontman Yannis Philippakis, who told NME: “I just don’t understand what they’ve been playing at.

“I think our government should have done so much more to try to protect and foster the future of music and culture in the UK,” he said. “It’s one of the most important facets of Britain, is our tradition in the arts. Whether you’re in a punk band, a theatre troupe or a ballet, we’ve all just been screwed.

“It just shows the disdain that the Conservatives have for the arts. Nothing matters for them except tax cuts and corruption – which weirdly in the UK is called ‘cronyism’. Let’s just call it what it is – it’s rampant, rife corruption. I feel pretty livid about the situation.”

Regarding the previous announcement around visa-free touring, Yannis said: “There are loads of stings in that tail and they’ve just put out a spin PR release. It’s still really problematic. If you’re a young band that’s starting out and trying to make your way, who’s got the ability to be dealing with that on a logistical or financial level? It’s a poisoned chalice, and they’ve presented it like a glass of champagne.”

He added: “I’m hoping that there’s still work to be done that can improve the situation and this isn’t the brute truth forever, but it still doesn’t change how inept and uncaring our own politicians have been.”

Arctic Monkeys
Arctic Monkeys performing at Melkweg (The Max), Amsterdam in 2006 (Picture: Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Responding to the latest backlash to their announcement, a DCMS government spokesperson admitted that “specific requirements for many Member States are not always clearly identifiable” and that they were working to add further information and clarity to their website as they “continue to engage extensively with the sector to help them in understanding the rules and develop their own guidance”.

“We want our creative professionals to tour abroad easily,” a government spokesperson told NME. “We have worked at pace and spoken to every EU Member State about the importance of touring, and 20 EU Member States have confirmed they offer visa and work permit free routes for performers and other creative professionals. This includes most of the biggest touring markets, including France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

“We are now working with the remaining countries to encourage them to match the UK’s generous arrangements, which allow creative professionals to tour here easily.”

Earlier this month, a number of figures from the music industry spoke to NME about how new visa rules, as well as prohibitive costs and admin rules, meant that many UK artists could no longer afford to tour in Spain – cutting off one of the biggest markets for UK talent.

Rising post-punk bands Squid and Black Country, New Road are among those to have recently pulled out of Spanish shows “without any hint of rescheduling their respective tours” – as promoters Primavera Sound noted.

Discussions remain ongoing for visa touring provisions with Spain, Croatia, Greece, Portugal, Bulgaria, Malta and Cyprus.

Amid months of inaction, the government has often been accused of treating the £6billion music sector like “an afterthought” in Brexit negotiations, compared to the £1.2billion fishing industry.

A recent poll found that the majority of UK voters wanted the government to be doing more to solve the post-Brexit touring fiasco for musicians and crew, after over 280,000 people signed a petition calling for visa-free touring through the EU to be established for artists and crew.