UK Culture Secretary claims EU touring situation not as bad as thought

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has told Parliament’s Digital, Culture Media and Sports Committee that the European touring visa crisis is not as bad as predicted

Dowden’s words did not include a list of which 17 member states and showed that the government is still no further towards accessing the EU-wide performance touring visa-waiver demanded by the music, theatre and cultural industries.

Despite promises from the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to sort the situation out, it has been left to Dowden to approach each member state individually. ‘We have engaged with every member state and off the back of that we have got a much clearer picture about the extent of restrictions and it varies enormously between countries,’ he told the committee.

‘And I can tell you our current analysis is that in at least 17 out of the 27 states some paid touring activities are possible without needing visas or work permits… So, that is a much more positive picture than initially appeared to be the case.’

Except that this is exactly what all industry bodies and many companies have been saying since the middle of 2020 and most of the information was discovered by CHORALLY in an hour on Google.

Dowden denied this to the committee, admitting that the results of touring being omitted from the Trade and Cooperation Agreement mean the system is now very complicated. ‘The next thing we are doing is making sure we effectively communicate that so there is a better understanding of how people can tour anyway in those countries without need for further change,’ Dowden added.

These words will cut little ice with the performance industry, whose umbrella campaign group Carry On Touring will be holding a UK/EU Summit on 20 May, uniting industry representatives in a day of action. The group is calling on as many touring professionals and artists as possible to post pictures of themselves holding suitcases, tools or instruments and passports on social media. A guide to taking part can be found on the Musicians’ Union website.

Buck-passing and finger-pointing

Dowden claimed that some things had improved, including portable instruments not requiring a carnet and EU musicians not being double-charged social security when they come to the UK. But his evidence also provided little comfort for the tour logistics industry. Responding to Dowden’s statement that cabotage rules were down to the Ministry of Transport and he didn’t know whether they were negotiating with individual states or the EU Commission, the committee chair, Julian Knight MP, accused the government of buck-passing. ‘When the PM said it was ‘getting sorted’ he points the finger at Lord Frost who points the finger are you, but you point the finger at Transport.’

In fact, as Dowden admitted, nothing can be done without the permission of the XO Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, and, in regard to cabotage, there had been little success. Instead, he attempted to deflect by highlighting the idea that more UK artists could be able to tour in Japan.

On the day of the committee meeting, the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) published a report refuting the government’s reasoning for opposing renegotiating a visa-free touring agreement. The society’s findings were brought up during the committee meeting, but Culture Secretary Dowden failed to respond adequately. He has promised to write to the committee with a full response.

As the ISM’s Chief Executive Deborah Annetts said, ‘Despite what MPs have been told by ministers, the latest legal advice has shown that it is entirely possible for the Government to create an agreement that would be compatible with their manifesto pledge, be legally binding and benefit specific professions without requiring a renegotiation of the Brexit Deal. Creating such an agreement is achievable, it simply requires the political will to deliver on the Prime Minister’s commitment to sort this mess out.’