The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) have written to the Secretary of State for Digital Culture Media and Sport, challenging him to clarify what is meant by ‘visa-free short-term touring’ in 19 EU member states, following the claim made by his Department yesterday.

The announcement followed ongoing concerns from musicians and others in the creative sector, that under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), additional costs and red-tape will prevent them from working in Europe.

However the ISM have challenged the Secretary of State to clarify exactly what is meant by visa-free ‘short-term touring’ as our research indicates that, in many of the countries listed, the exemption is only for a few days or weeks.

It is common that when the EU grant short-stay visa-waivers to third countries, this is defined as 90 days in a period of 180 days.

The ISM contend that the Government’s announcement deliberately implies that musicians (and other creative professionals) will be permitted to work visa-free in those 19 countries for the same length of time.

The Government must urgently clarify what kinds of work, and what time period, are in fact permitted in each of the 19 countries – otherwise they risk seriously misleading musicians and others who are preparing to travel to Europe for work.

The ISM have argued that the best way to address the barriers to touring – which mean many musicians and others are already missing out on work in Europe – is for the Government to negotiate a bespoke Visa Waiver Agreement (VWA) which would allow visa-free touring for creative professionals. This would provide far better cover for musicians and artists, and greater clarity and consistency for our sector.

In their letter to the Secretary of State, the ISM also shared legal advice received from a leading QC, which dismantles the reasons given by the Government for not pursuing a VWA with the EU.

The advice the ISM has received shows the refusal to negotiate a VWA is due to a lack of political will, rather than any practical or legal barriers.

The devastating impact of this for our sector is already being seen – with the National Theatre shelving plans to tour in Europe due to Brexit related costs, earlier this year.

Without real action to address the adverse consequences of the TCA for the creative industries, the Government risk doing further serious harm to an industry which generates £116bn towards the UK economy annually.

The ISM have challenged the Secretary of State to urgently answer the following questions:

  • Confirm exact details of what visa and work permit free touring will be permitted in each of the 19 countries.
  • Share with us now that the TCA is nearly 8 months old the Mode 4 proposal the Government made to the EU. I do not see any harm in sharing the proposal and such an act would alleviate any distrust within the sector. 
  • Ensure that the issues affecting out sector will be discussed at the next meeting of the UK-EU Partnership Council.
  • Set out the timetable for your Department to undertake negotiations with key EU states in connection with improving the current provisions around work permits for touring musicians in Europe.

Deborah Annetts Chief Executive of the ISM said,

“Our touring musicians deserve better than misleading statements from Government, when many have serious concerns for their future careers and livelihoods. We believe that pursuing a Visa Waiver Agreement with the EU remains a critical part of the solution, enabling artists to tour in Europe with ease once more, something that is vital for many musicians in order to make a living.

We have been disappointed that the Government has so far refused to open discussions with the EU, which harms not just the UK creative industries but also the UK economy. The legal advice we have obtained dismantles the Secretary of State’s reasons for not pursuing a VWA with the EU.

The VWA is an easy solution to a complex set of issues – there is no reason now for the Government not to adopt this policy which will give certainty and flexibility to this incredibly important sector. Music alone generates £5.8bn and sustains almost 200,000 jobs, while the creative industries as a whole contribute £116bn to the UK economy. Now is the time to take all possible measures to promote economic recovery post the pandemic, support the creative industries and get everyone back to work.”

World renowned mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Patricia Connolly DBE said,

The legal advice presented by the ISM makes it crystal clear that a work Visa Waiver Agreement is entirely possible to negotiate and to obtain. I call upon Lord Frost and the Brexit negotiators to immediately review this information and act quickly upon the suggestions within the letter which is in the interests of all touring and performing musicians, businesspersons and the wealth of the United Kingdom. To ignore, will be seen as deliberate obstruction and wilful further destruction of the music industry. 

It is essential for musicians, actors, business persons and others whose livelihoods are inextricably woven into the fabric of life in Europe be allowed to resume work, and to continue to provide an immensely profitable contribution to the GDP, which, in 2019 from the entertainment industry was £116 billion.”

Ian Smith Carry of Touring and UKEARTSWORK “It’s without a doubt that the ISM’s request for a VWA is in line with our aims at Carry On Touring and to be heartily welcomed and encouraged. We urge the government to engage fully, to proactively reach out in the spirit of mutually beneficial outcomes for the UK and EU and to achieve this important FIRST step. Founding and researching UKEARTSWORK I’ve seen only too clearly the problems that currently exist now for the creative arts sector. This initiative would be a great step forward in resolving a key problem. I totally support this call for clarity whereby with this latest statement from DCMS has simply created more confusion.”