“Immigration arrangements for members of the armed forces, musicians and other performers are completely unchanged, and those routes will operate as they do now,” said the UK’s home secretary Priti Patel in February 2020, during a parliamentary debate on plans for a new points-based immigration system after the UK Brexited from the European Union.

11 months on, that statement is looking questionable, with the Independent newspaper splashing this weekend on a story claiming the UK “rejected an offer of visa-free tours by musicians to EU countries, despite blaming Brussels for what the industry is calling the devastating blow of them requiring permits”. It further alleged that the British government turned down the plans because it didn’t want to grant similar benefits to European musicians touring the UK.

That’s the wider significance of this story: with artists and the live industry already reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic, they are also facing the prospect of major costs and red tape for touring when concerts do return across the UK and Europe – a sucker punch not just to British musicians wanting to venture abroad, but to European artists eyeing the lucrative UK market.

Cue outrage. “The news, if true, that our own elected representatives chose to turn down such an offer is nigh-on unbelievable,” said Horace Trubridge, general secretary of the Musicians’ Union in the UK. “This is utter insanity,” said MMF chief executive Annabella Coldrick. Both called for urgent clarification from the government on whether the report was true, and what it plans to do next.

The government is pushing back against the Independent’s report, it should be noted. “This story is incorrect and misleading speculation from anonymous EU sources,” a spokesperson told the NME. “The UK pushed for a more ambitious agreement with the EU on the temporary movement of business travellers, which would have covered musicians and others, but our proposals were rejected by the EU.” The relevant ministers can expect to be pressed on the details of this.

The story illustrates why Brexit’s impact stretches well beyond British musicians, but there’s a wider theme here too. That’s the question of the extent to which politicians in power have an affinity for the arts and culture, but also a true understanding of the economic importance of these industries.

As administrations come and go, the fortunes of countries’ music industries vary in these regards. The British government currently has a lot on its plate with the twin challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit, and in the last year it has regularly veered between dogmatic digging-in of heels and sudden, screeching policy u-turns. On touring visas, the industry’s hopes will be for another example of the latter.

Music Ally’s next Learn Live webinar will help you understand what’s required for artists to thrive in new international markets!

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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