Comment of the day: UK is to blame for Europe visa charges

Comment of the day: UK is to blame for Europe visa charges

Comment Of The Day

norman lebrecht

April 23, 2021

From ensemble leader and Slippedisc commenter Robert King:

Ironically, it was the EU that offered a deal for musicians to have such a waiver, and it was the UK that refused it. Here is – verbatim – a message from Michel Barnier’s office sent to a colleague of mine on 24 March 2021 year which clarifies the EU position:

“The European Union submitted on 18 March 2020 a proposal to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (United Kingdom) for a draft Agreement.

“This proposed agreement is accessible here:
I draw your attention to pages 171 and seq. (Articles MOBI.1 and seq.) and page 354 (Annex MOBI-1) of that proposed agreement. Under those articles, the European Union proposed commitments on visa-free short stays and a specific declaration (cf. Annex) excluding performing artists from the requirement to have a visa.

“The United Kingdom refused to include a commitment on visa-free short stays in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Such types of commitments in the European Union’s international agreements are usually accompanied by a Joint Declaration explicitly excluding certain categories (for example, sportspersons, artists and journalists) from the requirement to have a visa. As a result, it is now up to each Member State to determine if a visa is required for short-stay visits for the purpose of carrying out a paid activity. This is fully in line with European Union law (cf. Art. 6(3) of Regulation 2018/1806). A “paid activity” normally means carrying out a gainful occupation or remunerated activity as an employee or as a service provider.

“Since the United Kingdom has chosen to no longer allow the free movement of European Union citizens to the United Kingdom and since it also refused to include a chapter on mobility in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, these choices inevitably mean that travel between the European Union and the United Kingdom – including for business purposes – will no longer be as easy as it was while the United Kingdom was a Member State”.

And there, according to the EU, is the offer that the EU made, and the position that the UK took.




  • Anthony Sayer says:

    So, if someone is offered a gig in Poland, that country then decides whether or not that person needs a short-stay visa. Where’s the problem, exactly?

    • Robert King says:

      If an orchestra or an ensemble is offered an engagement in Spain – which has for 30 years been a huge touring destination for UK orchestras, choirs and ensembles, with immensely cultured Spanish audiences rightly being huge fans of UK orchestras and ensembles – the costs of a visa to give that performance in Spain is a minimum of €232 per person. With the average fee for a freelance orchestral or choral singer being £160, that visa costs more than the fee (for a symphony orchestra, €232 x 80 = €18,560). So the date falls.

      Multiply that single loss of a performance by hundreds of similar performances across the year – dates which used to provide a significant portion of the livelihood for thousands of UK musicians, brought many millions of pounds into the UK economy, and helped subsidise tied UK performances (UK dates are almost invariably money losers), that is a substantial hole in the UK’s Arts economy, a substantial loss to the UK treasury, and a substantial hole in the livelihoods of already hard-pressed performers.

      There are now different rules in each of the EU nations to which UK performers used to tour without cost or hindrance. Most UK performers are freelancers (even the members of – for instance – the London Symphony Orchestra only get paid when they have a day’s work): the loss of EU work means for many performers that up to 50% of their income has now evaporated. We aren’t so much talking about relatively better-paid soloists, for whom a visa is a real nuisance, and a cost, but they can absorb it (though they aren’t going to get the short notice “drop-ins”). We are talking about the musicians who form the bedrock of UK music: the rank-and-file orchestral players, the jazzers, the highly-skilled professional choral singers, the string quartets, the rock bands on the way up (or down), etc. They are all part of the UK’s musical eco-system which generates £5.2 billion (yes, billion) each year for the UK economy (as comparison, that’s five times more than fishing generates) and employs more than 100,000 people.

      I hope, Mr Sayer, that this explains a little more of what is the genuine issue here. Visa-free (which was apparently offered by the EU but we understand was turned down by the UK) would resolve all that at a stroke. But, with that opportunity passed, it now requires the UK’s politicians to start talking to their counterparts in 27 EU countries, and to negotiate bilateral deals separately with each country. You can only wonder how long that could take – that’s assuming that there is even the political will.

      • Heini says:

        The visa rules for each country can be seen in this document from the ISM.

      • If each EU country had an intelligent policy of giving visa-free status to sportsmen, musicians, journalists etc. from the UK, the UK would have to reciprocate. I remember having to get work permits for Switzerland and Italy in the 1980s, before Iceland became part of the EEA. At the time, these paper-pushing activities, although time-consuming, did not put one too much out of pocket. Nowadays, with almost all such things being digitalized, these bureaucratic games have become very expensive, despite the enormous time-saving achieved by being able to complete applications online.

  • Harpist says:

    Elections (and referenda) have consequences.

    • CJ says:

      Yes. As the Italians would say: “Hai voluto la bicicletta, adesso pedala!” (You wanted a bike, now ride!).
      (Even if I know that not everybody wanted that bike and that now everybody has to ride).

  • Greg Bottini says:

    How did the UK voters ever swallow Brexit? That vote was as bad for the UK as the election of Trump was for the US.

    • Patrick says:

      Except that electoral decisions are time-limited, Brexit is probably permanent. So much worse for the UK than Trump was for the USA – and some days I’m equivocal about the latter

  • Nick2 says:

    A total disgrace!

  • PianistW says:

    But at least the UK got the country back…

    Now enjoy it.

  • Ernest says:

    My heart goes out to the UK musicians. They may have to move for the sake of their livelihood.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:


  • Stereo says:

    If we hadn’t left the EU we wouldn’t have been able have the vaccination or furlough system. We would have been in total chaos like the EU.

    • CJ says:

      Stereo, you must be joking: ok the vaccination was better launched initially in the UK, but the number of Covid deaths in the UK is still higher than in any EU country (including Italy, Spain, France and Germany)!
      And do you seriously think that there is no furlough system in the EU? Maybe you should read more serious newspapers.

    • Robert King says:

      Dear “Stereo”: with respect, that’s simply not the case.

      Regarding furlough, each EU country has created its own system – and performers have by and large been vastly better supported in most EU countries than those in the UK, where nearly 40% of musicians have not been supported as their working methods didn’t fit the UK’s inflexible and rather narrow support criteria.

      Regarding vaccinations, again, each EU nation has had their own system as they are sovereign nations. The EU has not instructed the Spanish, Irish, Maltese, Portuguese, Swedish, French, Germans and all the rest to do the same thing – as is proven by the fact that some countries are doing rather well on numbers of vaccinations, and some are behind the curve (ie at April 21 Malta was on 65%, but Latvia only 12% of adult population vaccinated). To lump together all the EU nations and say they are all “in total chaos” is not supported by fact.

  • Annoyed of North London says:

    You’ll never persuade Brexidiots. It’s a lost cause. Let them stew in their stupidity.