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Labour Party joins UK music industry in fight to restore European touring rights

Harriet Harman MP has joined the battle to defend the UK live touring industry as Labour has unveiled a 10-point plan backed by the Musicians’ Union, UK Music and the Incorporated Society of Musicians

Following the joint efforts of musicians, touring companies and Liberal Democrats in of the House of Lords last month, Labour has now proposed a plan that would give UK musicians visa- and permit-free access to the EU.

The government claimed that it was the EU which rejected their ideas for short-term working access on either side of the English Channel, but later admitted that it was UK Brexit negotiators who caused the blockage for fear of breaching a manifesto promise to stop freedom of movement.

The results, according to a House of Commons survey, is that 81 percent of those musicians who signed the petition to restore visa-free touring would probably not tour Europe until their rights are restored.

A number of important EU countries would not offer special exemptions for visiting cultural groups such as choirs

Harman argued in the House of Commons that orchestras and opera houses would have to come cap in hand to the Treasury just to cover the losses caused by the increased fees and bureaucracy of the new trade agreement. She also reminded the government that, contrary to predictions by some of their industry apologists, there were a number of important EU countries that would not offer special exemptions for visiting cultural groups such as choirs, notably Spain, Portugal and Italy.

Included in the plan she announced would be the creation of a British Music Export Office and a minister to re-negotiate with the EU on behalf of the music sector.

Harman’s 10-point plan is:

  • Negotiate reciprocal bilateral work permit agreements with countries, prioritising those countries most financially important to UK musicians and those that do not offer cultural exemptions for work permits, such as Spain, Italy, and Portugal.
  • Negotiate a cultural exemption from cabotage rules for music tours.
  • Negotiate the exemption of musical instruments and equipment from Carnet and CITES requirements.
  • Publish correspondence and relevant information relating to previous negotiations with the EU on this matter, as it is not possible for the UK music sector to assist in lobbying EU countries without knowing what the UK Government has already proposed and why it was rejected.
  • Guarantee the continuation of at least part of the furlough and self-employed support for the music sector even after Covid restrictions have been lifted until such time as the visa issues have been resolved.
  • Create a Music Touring Fund to support touring until such time as these issues are resolved.
  • Extend the VAT reduction for the cultural sector until businesses have fully reopened and sales have restarted and until the visa issue is resolved enabling EU touring to recommence.
  • Establish within Government, a Music Export Office (within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Cabinet Office, the Department for International Trade, or the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) to lead on the UK-EU and bilateral negotiations for musicians touring in EU countries and to co-ordinate support to musicians dealing with visa and other obstacles until such time as the visa issues are resolved.
  • Establish an ad hoc cross-departmental working group to co-ordinate work by officials across government departments on this issue.
  • Designate a minister to lead on this re-negotiation and lead the cross-departmental work on this issue.

To date, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has said it would consider the idea of funding to help with touring but that the government would not consider renegotiating the trade agreement.

Harriet Harman’s full submission can be found here.

Author: CHORALLY Editor