Several Dozen MPs followed up an Urgent Question from Pete Wishart (SNP Perth & N Perthshire) on “Visa arrangements for UK Musicians in the EU”, answered by Caroline Dinenage, Minister for Digital & Culture.

The Minister insisted in several answers that the EU made a “broad offer” on this matter in the Brexit Deal negotiations, which was rejected by the UK on the basis that it was incompatible with their manifesto commitments on “taking back control of our borders”; and that the EU in turn declined a proposal from the UK which was “based on music industry requirements”. Several MPs asked that the Minister publish the details of the UK offer and the interactions between the UK and the EU on the issue, which she declined to agree to do, offering instead to speak to colleagues in other departments to see what further information might be made available.

When pressed to commit to renegotiate the matter with the EU, she sometimes said this was down to state-by-state negotiations, many times insisted that her “door is always open” to the EU for negotiations, but seemed to shy away from initiating discussion with the EU, though did mention an opportunity in the future to review this agreement. Surprisingly, she also said many times over that the UK would attempt to ease the way individually with the relevant EU member states – although making it clear that this would be with a view to facilitating current arrangements, rather than agreeing any mutual waiver of visa and work permit requirements – and noted that permission to work is already offered on pretty good terms by many states.

Dinenage also repeated many times that it was imperative the UK Government clarified the current situation for UK artists, technicians and support staff, though without setting out quite how.  She also reiterated that the UK Government really cares, as is embodied by the Culture Recovery Fund, Arts Council England funding, and she even hinted at further possible support in the future.  There was a great deal more detail which you can hopefully find in the rough notes below.

Rough notes on the full debate

Caroline Dinenage (CD) (Minister of State for Digital and Culture, Conservative MP for Gosport) – recognises importance of cultural industries, viz £1.57bn CRF – & therefore pushed for free touring with the EU in the deal negotiation.  These proposals were rejected by the EU.  Touring now necessitates checking working status with each state.  UK Govt must help sector understand new rules, will work with ACE and others.  Will also look to work with partners in EU states to facilitate this and keep dialogue open with the UK sector.

Pete Wishart (SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire) – disappointing response.  Musicians and artists = collateral in the UK Govt’s ending of freedom of movement.  Why was EU’s offer of 90 day deal turned down?  Minister’s approach contradicted by the EU.  No more EU blaming, just fix it.  Will she start talks with EU?

CD: – PW has fallen for selective briefing.  EU didn’t offer a deal that would work with musicians, the offer was not compatible with mandate to “take back control of our borders”.  EU proposals covered ad hoc performances not touring, no support staff or technicians.  “We spoke to them [music industry] long and hard before negotiating.  Let’s focus on the future – “If the EU is happy to negotiate I will walk straight through that door”.  We need clarity not recriminations, that’s what we are working to provide.

Julian Knight (Conservative, Solihull): – Will the minister commit to a strategy to get live music going again, pan-EU, but also covid insurance to cover planning?

CD: it’s different for each nation, govt aiming for certainty and clarity.  Also discussing insurance with the Treasury.

Alison McGovern (Shadow Minister for Sport, Labour, Wirral South): Can the minister make clear what UK proposed to EU and when it was rejected?  Will she place in the commons library all the correspondence with the EU.  1/3 industry is self employed, this is another massive kick in the teeth. Exactly what is the proposal from the UK to resolve this situation?

CD: EU proposed short stay visas for “ad hoc” performances but not including technicians and support workers.  These would have enshrined permanent short-stay permissions not compatible with manifesto pledge of ending freedom of movement. 

Damian Green (Conservative, Ashford): this kind of touring crucial to promoting Britain around the world so extraordinary EU offer was turned down.  Can minister confirm this is what happened and that UK Govt will reopen negotiation?

CD: UK Govt recognises importance of creative industries etc.  Working towards access for  UK musicians to guidance, information and UK Govt will work with each EU Member state to make things easier.

John Nicholson (DCMS Spokesman, SNP, Ochil and South Perthshire) Quotes MU Head “the government fails to understand UK Musicians” – will the Sec of State intervene and publish the correspondence?

CD: Government will do everything it can to solve this

Selaine Saxby (Conservative, North Devon): Can minister say how much 1.57bn CRF has gone to musicians?

CD:    (she does)

Kevin Brennan (Labour, Cardiff West): What about individuals, not with tech support, and individuals starting out.  The most important thing she could do is publish in full the EU “ambitious proposals” and why the UK rejected them?

CD: understands touring is vital for those starting out.  Will speak to colleagues about publishing this.

Gagan Mahindra (Conservative, South West Hertfordshire): were UK Govt proposals based on proposals from music industry?

CD: will work with UK Music and Musicians’ union to put forward proposals they wanted.

Jamie Stone (Liberal Democrat, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): Welcomes the fact the door is still open to EU performers performing in the UK.  But can she confirm the EU promoters will just book non-UK musicians.   Will she hold a meeting to sort?

CD:  Yes.  Recently held a “sector explainer seminar” with loads of attendees, there’s’ another one coming up tomorrow…

Sarah Britcliffe (Conservative, Hyndburn): what is the department doing to address this?

CD: Will keep UK sector informed about each different nation (as it’s down to this level now) and Govt will work with each EU nation to fix this.

Fleur Anderson (Labour, Putney):  Will the minister sit back with her door open or actually take the initiative in negotiations?

CD: doesn’t know what she has said to make FA think CD is happy with this and will do nothing.  Will continue to talk to EU member states.  Any changes they’ll make likely to cover all visitors not just those from the UK.

Simon Fell (Conservative, Barrow and Furness): Can CD confirm touring is actually possible in the EU and UK Govt is working toward formal negotiation with the EU?

CD: Yes.  Lots of nations that will want to make this work.

Tracy Brabin (Labour (Co-op), Batley and Spen): West Yorkshire particularly afflicted after recent growth in creative industry.  Will govt still support? Can she say what impact assessment has been made?

CD: of course we know it has been a horrible year, of course will talk to colleagues and see what support treasury might be able to make.

Tommy Shepherd (SNP, Edinburgh East): Edinburgh Fringe = largest festival in the world, vital in making new work and launching new work tours, does she realise she is undermining fringe and other Scottish festivals?

CD: Big fan, last summer the first Fringe she missed for a long time. It wasn’t for want of trying that there was no deal.  Foreign musicians still very welcome in the UK.

Stephen Crabb (Con, Preseli Pembrokeshire): knows that UK Music is a bit export.  What more can she do on a bilateral basis with EU Member states to keep touring going?

CD: It is all about bilateral conversations with EU Member states, about facilitation rather than waiver.

Ian Paisley (DUP, North Antrim): Can the minister clarify carnets for musicians touring to Northern Ireland and back, will they not need carnets, and then what of the south…?

CD: No carnets for NI artists when touring in the EU. But NI artists who don’t have a RoI passport will need work permits etc as with all other UK artists.

Jane Hunt (Con, Loughborough): What steps are the government taking to get the EU back to the negotiating table?  Asks the EU to return to the problem.

CD: The team did negotiate an opportunity to review this in the future [2024?]  but she is right this impacts EU AND UK Artists.

Barbara Keeley (Lab, Worsley and Eccles South): UK Musicians risk being double charged social security in certain countries.  What solutions is the UK seeking?

CD: The Deal covers this with a range of options, social security is to be paid only in one state at a time.  Member states have till 31 Jan to sign up to the “detached worker provision” and need encouragement.

Bob Blackman (Con, Harrow East): What discussions has CD had with TV companies to have music recorded then broadcast in other parts of the EU?

CD: Ingenious question.  Will discuss with minister for data and media.

Alex Davies-Jones (Lab, Pontypridd): A local brass band (The Cory Band) will need a visa for each member to tour, what will CD do to fix this?

CD: if the tour is not paid there may not be an issue. Happy to speak further.

Richard Fuller (Con, North East Bedfordshire): clear this issue gets to the core of our inextricable links with Europe.  Good to see minister trying to simplify. Will she help individual musicians carrying instruments?

CD: we’ll keep this in mind.

Munira Wilson (LibDem, Twickenham): also been contacted by actors, dancers, puppeteers as well as musicians.  What assurances can the ministers give, particularly students, that they are not an afterthought?

CD: Govt recognises the importance of artists.

Andrew Bowie (Con, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): Will SNP act like a party of government and work with Cons to sort this out?

CD: we need to move forward with solutions.  Industry itself says “we need clarity not recriminations”

David Linden (SNP, Glasgow East): Government promised it would make this work in negotiations and didn’t

CD: UK proposals were rejected by the EU

Caroline Noakes (Con, Romsey and Southampton North): pleased to hear about technicians, sound and lighting engineers?  Will she also include bus companies, also vital?

CD: EU musician-specific proposal would not have supported them

Ben Bradshaw (Lab, Exeter): ministers keep claiming they made this fantastic offer but won’t publish.  The EU has on p 171 of draft agreement last march. Will the minister now publish? (Note – not clear what’s relevant on p.171 – possibly means p.354?)

CD: have to correct – the document doesn’t say 90 days visa-free touring by UK musicians, which is why they couldn’t sign up.

Richard Holden (Con, North West Durham): touring is a financial necessity on both sides.  Can the minister confirm it’s the UK govt that pushed for a better agreement and the EU that rejected this?

CD: yes

Maria Eagle (Lab, Garston and Halewood): Govt always says it’s all somebody else’s fault.  Much more touring flows from UK to EU than the other way round, so CD giving up risks destroying an export success as well as the livelihoods of the technicians.

CD: of course she recognises this is not the solution she wanted or fought for.  But the labour party voted for this.

Dean Russell (Con, Watford): many amazing musicians in Watford.  Can CD confirm it was not the UK that ended these visas?

CD: CRF is all about support, ACE all about support.

Hywel Williams (Plaid Cymru, Arfon): in 2019 music generated 124 mil in wales supporting x thousand jobs.  What impact assessments has she made?

CD: “we know that there will be obstacles in the immediate period” but once we enable people to access the information that they need it will be better and welsh musicians will overcome obstacles.

Crispin Blunt (Con, Reigate): Thanks for the opportunity to correct misleading social media chatter from musicians about where responsibility lies?  Can CD confirm EU has cynically abused their own musicians to undermine UK’s own initiatives to close border… [Speaker cuts him off]

CD: the EU music scene best in the world, obstacles difficult for them as well.

Martyn Day (SNP, Linlithgow and East Falkirk): Many bands = comprised of EU AND UK nationals, will she recognise the problems faced now for these to tour anywhere?

CD: yes, now down to each member state but it’s the EU’s fault – UK offer would have avoided this.

Scott Mann (Con, North Cornwall): Artists important not just economically but to culture and soft power.  Will CD commit to doing what she can to secure access to EU countries for UK musicians and get them to show some flexibility?

CD: yes, door remains open

Clive Efford (Lab, Eltham): UK = 1% world population, creates 10% of the world’s music, employing 2,000,000.  When will she start negotiations on a supplementary agreement to sort this mess out?

CD: we fought hard to get this covered in the agreement.  What we need to do now is make sure our sectors are ready to face any impact, we need to make sure they have the right info and the right support

Damian Collins (Con, Folkestone and Hythe): Will UK Govt ease the movement of musical equipment – instruments etc?  Do EU based showcases fall under the exemption for conferences?

CD: haulage is not just imposed, it applies both ways – to EU and UK nationals.  Needs to speak to DoT and EU colleagues.  Business trips will fall under business visa waiver.  But must check with individual states.

Mary Kelly Foy (Lab, City of Durham): we could all agree that no competent government would accept such a loss of revenue to an already suffering industry without a plan B, so what is the plan B?

CD: the EU did not make a bespoke offer that the UK turned down.  As ever want to support UK Music industry, as they have with CRF and ACE.

Steve Brine (Con, Winchester): Surely the longer this persists the worst it gets, way too much risk to book European gigs?  Need to return to the negotiation with the “sensible UK proposal that presumably still stands?”

CD: yes, “the deal is still on the table, our door is open” to the EU to take up that deal, speaking to member states bilaterally in the meantime. What sector needs is certainty.

Dave Doogan (SNP, Angus): minister acknowledges this is unsatisfactory. Is she not worried that this exposes a rather narrow and isolationist vision, like farmers?

CD: key is to put in place guidance and support the sector needs.

Robin Millar (Con, Aberconwy): one tour may visit dozens of venues involving hundreds of people,  What reassurances are there that visas, carnets and cabotage will be simpler in the future?

CD: the assurance is that we will have conversations with individual member states, some are even ok already, we’ll speak to them now to smooth the path.

Debate ends.

A photo pf the interior of the House Of Commons