UK Government is quizzed over EU offer for musician visas

UK Government is quizzed over EU offer for musician visas


norman lebrecht

January 10, 2021

The composer Michael Berkeley has tabled a question to the Government in the House of Lords, demanding to know if – as reported by one online reporter – it rejected an EU offer to allow free exchanges of touring musicians.

The Independent report, if confirmed, is shocking in the narrow-mindedness and negligence of UK negotiators. It reads:

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.

A “standard” proposal to exempt performers from the huge cost and bureaucracy for 90 days was turned down, The Independent has been told – because the government is insisting on denying that to EU artists visiting this country.

“It is usually in our agreements with third countries, that [work] visas are not required for musicians. We tried to include it, but the UK said no,” an EU source close to the negotiations said. 

The Incorporated Society of Musicians issued this statement:

‘If these reports are true then we are looking at a serious breach of
trust after the Government provided multiple assurances throughout 2020
that they understood the importance of frictionless travel for UK
musicians and would be negotiating an ambitious agreement to achieve
this objective.

‘We join the call with leading UK businesses that trade negotiations
with Brussels should restart to address the serious regulatory
challenges facing many industries, and a better deal for UK musicians
should be included in those talks. We need complete transparency on what
was discussed during the negotiations and an urgent statement in the
House of Commons outlining what steps the Government are taking to
protect our world leading performing arts sector.’


  • Anonymous says:

    Is this why Rattle is going to Munich now? He accepted the job.

  • George Porter says:

    Brexit – never fails to disappoint.

    • Allen says:

      Well it has certainly disappointed those who predicted queues at Dover and decades to get trade agreements signed.

      • Hornbill says:

        The only new trade agreement is with the EU, succinctly described by Theresa May as “a deal in trade which benefits the EU but not a deal in services which would have benefited the U.K.”

        All the other agreements are rollovers of what we already had as members of the EU.

        • Allen says:

          From the BBC website:

          “The UK signed a deal with Japan on 22 October – the first that differs from an existing EU deal.”

          Positive steps are being made towards the UK joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). That’s 11 countries.

          And the rollover deals mean that we’re no worse off, don’t they?

          The fact remains that the predictions of doom were wrong, just as they were when we refused to adopt the Euro. Try to contain your disappointment.

          • Barbarian at the Gates says:

            Well done Allen! Keep sticking that head in the sand. After all, you know more than all those trade groups and surrender monkeys like the Incorporated Society of Musicians. Thank heavens we have people like you or we might have to listen to all those experts. Jesus wept.

      • George Porter says:

        Online retailer Ocado warns of shortages as suppliers cut choice:

  • Miko says:

    You should examine closely the conversations between the ABO (Association of British Orchestras) and the DCMS throughout 2020:
    This is their press statement from July 2020, clutching their begging bowl (not big enough as it turns out) at Dowden’s table:

    “In return, UK orchestras will:

    Get back to business, with additional government investment, to rebuild the economy, fuel jobs and
    growth, and prepare for the UK’s post-Brexit future.”

    Prepare for what future?

  • erich says:

    Does one see the hand of the utterly charmless ‘piranha’ (as her own husband calls her)Patel behind this? One wonders if she has ever attended a serious concert or opera.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      She doesn’t need any qualifications. The only qualities required to be a member of Johnson’s outfit (the word “government” is simply too good for them) are Grade I toadyism, Grade I sycophancy, and expressions of undying love and adulation for the nation’s Liar-in-Chief.

    • George Porter says:

      It seems Patel would only accept 30 days, not 90 as per standard EU scheme. It is not just “serious” music, it is all music, and theatre and more. It is brain-dead. As is Patel.

    • Bored Muso says:

      Ms Piranha Patel is a philistine, artistically ignorant, and should have been sacked recently when this hapless government had the chance, but no, that other ignorant philistine who spent his Eton and Oxford years playing sport, getting drunk and generally being bullish and loutish (known at both alumnus for being ignorant of the arts) BoJo, her boss, supported and kept her instead.
      Interesting Piranha last week publicly berated Boris for not taking a firmer stance against that other ignorant philistine across the pond, disgraced Trump – such is their mutual support for each other.
      With hopeless, hapless, ignorant insensitive idiots running our world, is it any doubt they pull stunts like this while they are incapable of appreciating anything other than their own egos?

  • Tony Britten says:

    I have written to my MP (a Tory) and demanded he take it up with Oliver Dowden immediately. Anyone reading this blog should do the same if we are to protect our musicians, artists and crews from this mean spirited and short sighted politicking. And, frankly anyone who disagrees with this post needs to ask themselves why they visit SD at all, if not for the love of music and all the good that it can bring to a fractured world.

    • Dave says:

      You have a tory MP? Good luck with that then. (NB I do support this post but I fear that the effort will be wasted.)

      • Tony Britten says:

        It sticks in the craw to say it, but this MP did push Dowden quite hard about providing a decent arts rescue package, so I will remain very cautiously optimistic!

      • James Black says:

        To be fair, my Tory MP, lobbied hard at local Council level for me as an Artist Manager to receive a (very small) share of the small amount of local support grants made available ….

  • Robert King says:

    Thank you so much to Michael Berkeley: behind the scenes (and in this case, in front of them) he and a handful of other members of the House of Lords continue to try to hold the UK government to account.

    All power to Michael’s elbow (and to that of the ISM, MU, ABO, IAMA and all the other major representative bodies fighting for UK performers to continue to be able to make a living), because the cost of a visa for (say) a member of a chamber orchestra heading off for a day to perform at a European concert hall is now all but prohibitive. As example, a visa to perform for one night in Germany will cost €80 per person, plus attendance at the embassy to get this visa assigned (so that’s another half day – more if you live outside London: a half day during which you can’t earn or work). If a tour covers more than one country, each country has a different set of criteria: apparently a visa for Spain currently has a waiting list of many months. So a four concert tour across four countries (a typical scenario) could see several days in advance spent queuing for visas (no earnings for those days), plus hundreds of pounds of cost for each performer.

    “Oh, they can afford it”. No: most of them can’t! For a section violinist or chamber choir singer whose daily touring fee may be around £150, to have to add another unpaid half day (to queue up) plus €80 for the visa – multiply that for each separate country – makes such dates and tours, which are the lifeblood of many a freelance orchestral player or choral singer, all but impossible.

    Across the UK classical music sector, with dozens of symphony and chamber orchestras, chamber choirs and instrumental ensembles doing such dates, in a typical year we are talking many millions of pounds of income which used to come into the UK economy. All these dates are now at serious risk. Whatever people may feel about the UK “taking back control”, there are no winners here.

    • Miko says:

      The ABO? Hmmm, not sure about that. Mark Pemberton was on radio 4 this week “putting a warmer spin” on things.

      • Robert King says:

        The ABO have put together a very useful document for their members (also available to members of IAMA) which outlines the varied visa protocol for touring in each EU country. A lot of research and coordination has gone on to assemble this. It makes rather depressing reading.

        More widely, from what I glean, there has been – and continues to be – a lot of negotiation between ABO and the DCMS to try to create pathways, and MarkP may be rather better informed than Miko or me as to what may eventually be negotiated. The MU also is doing a lot of work behind the scenes. I sense that in the end something will be muddled together, but this will not meanwhile prevent significant loss of engagements (and thus earnings) for months to come for “rank and file” UK performers and supporting technicians which will cost them, and the UK economy, dear.

        Exporting culture has for some decades been a considerable net earner for the UK economy. So, just from an economic point of view, to cut off that substantial income to the UK seems at best to have been short-sighted. [No reference to Barnard Castle intended].

        Meanwhile, putting pressure on your local MP will help build momentum. We know that the UK government will, when enough pressure is put on it, change direction – music needs the equivalent of Marcus Rashford.

        • Miko says:

          I know more than you think, Robert, and Mr Pemberton would do well to bear in mind that the cosy Oxbridge club at the ABO (none of whose “advocacy” has been chosen by the musicians impacted) will be held accountable for (allegedly) enabling this brexit government, be it through incompetence or collusion.

        • Miko says:

          Why are the ABO retweeting DCMS junior ministers denials? The stink is getting worse.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      Robert, thank you for taking such a principled and authoritative stand. I am tired of being told that nobody will be worse off after Brexit, that the whole world is queuing up to offer us golden opportunities in pursuit of a new Global Britain that will outshine anything that this world has ever seen. Already lots and lots of people are suffering inconvenience, severe financial losses and in the worst cases a serious existential crisis. All our creative industries deserve our support. They are one of the genuine success stories that our nation can point to. The fact that this shameful government is driven by dogma and not by pragmatism merely intensifies the problems that have now arisen. It is completely short-sighted too. How can putting musicians on the dole and relinquishing the potential tax revenues they would otherwise bring to the plate be economically sensible? But then this government has already indicated its attitude: “f*** business” in the words of the man at the top.

  • Hilary says:

    Quite apart from anything else, what a colossal expense of time Brexit is. For the general population, the advantages are anything but clear.

    • Dave says:

      The general population don’t have the massive interests in tax avoidance and asset-stripping that have been driving the whole Brexit swindle.

  • Christopher Clift says:

    As a former performer, I need to see some sort of lobbying from the MU on behalf of THEIR members, plus British Actors’ Equity, and Bectu, to name but three representative organisations.

    • Robert King says:

      Rest assured that the MU has been lobbying, and continues to lobby, vigorously. They are very active behind – and in front of – the scenes. I don’t know if you get their regular bulletin (often issued several times a week) but if not, here’s an extract from their latest on this topic [bulletin sent to members January 5]:

      “The Brexit deal has now been voted on in parliament and passed. The MU is grateful to the Labour leader Keir Starmer and a number of other MPs including Rachel Reeves and Tracy Brabin for raising the issue of touring musicians working in the EU, but there remains no clarity for our members.

      “The MU will fight to have performers included on the list of ‘Independent Professionals’ in the short term, but we will also continue to argue for an overall exemption for touring musicians.

      […] MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge explains:

      “Our understanding from analysis of the trade agreement, is that the main barriers for musicians in the short term will be work permits, which could vary from territory to territory, and costly carnets for movement of instruments and equipment.

      “We have been calling for a reciprocal arrangement; we understand that EU-based performers and crew will want to work here, by including the UK on an international tour for example, and many of our members rely heavily on working in EU countries. It is extremely disappointing that no such arrangement has been agreed.

      “In fact, this response suggests that the government fails to understand the issues facing touring musicians. Visas are not the issue, the issue is work permits. At the very least, in the short-term, touring performers should be included in the list of Independent Professionals. In the long term, there needs to be an exemption for touring performers if the UK is going to maintain its strong position as a world-class music nation.

      “We will continue to work with the UK Government to try to secure an acceptable arrangement. Given the massive impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the UK music industry, this is another devastating blow.”

    • Miko says:

      There was alot of toadying going on throughout 2020 at the DCMS. The MU, the ABO in particular very happy to ingratiate themselves with Dowden. The upshot? A terrible strategy for dealing with covid, a brexit back stab and countless freelancers thrown on the scrap heap.
      Overpaid industry “representatives”, all getting beyond themselves on our behalf, delivering precisely diddly squat.

  • J says:

    this is going to be wildly unpopular and downvoted like mad- get your fingers ready!- but post brexit the UK is about as much a member of the EU as peru or taiwan. so, while i think brexit was insanity, if musicians are given a visa free exemption then where does it end? why only artists? everyone will want in on visa free work in the EU…as much as i love my UK colleagues and want to continue performing with them the vote was the vote, as much as i disagree with it… and i simply do not think carving out an exception for one profession is either fair or responsible. ok, go ahead and thumbs down me!

  • Rachel says:

    Ironically….. the loser is the Treasury!Orchestras tour the concert halls of Europe…. musicians come home get paid for the tour and pay tax to the UK HMRC‍♀️

  • la plus belle voix says:

    The best working arrangement must surely be where UK musicians performing in the EU and EU ones playing in the UK simply do not need visas. It is hoped that the European Commission will have ignored inevitable British unilateral demands. And it might be a good moment to establish proper fees for EU artists appearing in the UK, where the average going rate is well under a third of what they would earn in EU countries, if that.

    • Judge Deeds says:

      And precisely why do you think that, given the high proportion of gifted artists there already are in the UK, ‘proper’ (for which read bloated) fees should be paid to artists from the EU? Artists are offered what the local market can stand.

  • Hornbill says:

    The finger-pointing starts. This was on Twitter from Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Digital and Culture at DCMS.

    “This story is incorrect – misleading speculation from anonymous EU sources. 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.”

  • M McAlpine says:

    The Independent got its facts wrong. “The story does make sense,” according to Paul Fenn, an agent with Asgard Promotions.
    The French government confirmed that UK citizens travelling to Europe to work for up to 90 days would not require visas. It also confirmed that temporary work permits would not be required for “sporting, cultural or scientific events.”