THE UK Government has been accused of treating touring musicians as Brexit “collateral” and of “fatally undermining” festivals in Britain after failing to agree a deal with the EU to allow a visa-free travel period for performers.
But Caroline Dineage, the Culture Minister, insisted the “door is open” if the EU was willing to consider what she called were the UK’s “very sensible proposals” on visa arrangements for musicians.
The clash came during an Urgent Question in the Commons, secured by the SNP’s Pete Wishart, a former keyboard player with Celtic rock band Runrig.
Ms Dineage for the UK Government stressed how it recognised the importance of Britain’s “world leading cultural and creative industries,” which was why, during the pandemic, it had allotted £1.57bn support package to them to help them get through the crisis.
“It’s entirely consistent, therefore, that we pushed for ambitious arrangements for performers and artists to be able to work across Europe during our negotiations with the EU.”
She insisted the UK proposals, informed by consultation with the creative industry, would have allowed UK musicians to travel and perform across the EU more easily but regrettably the proposals were rejected by the EU, which would mean British performers in some member states would need visas and work permits.
But Mr Wishart said the minister’s statement was “immensely disappointing”. Referring to his days touring in Europe with Runrig, he told MPs: “Touring Europe means everything to our artists and musicians.
“The thrill of that first tour, crammed into the Transit van with all your gear, four to a room in a cheap hotel in Paris, Rotterdam or Hamburg. Using what’s left of the fee for a post-gig beer.
“The dream that when you come back it will be a lavish tour bus, staying in five-star hotels.
“Gone, all gone. Musicians and artists mere collateral in this Government’s obsession in ending freedom of movement,” insisted the Perth MP.
He called for clarity on the negotiations and urged Ms Dineage to “fix this”.
Responding, Ms Dineage insisted the EU did not offer a deal that would have worked for musicians.
“It’s quite simple, the EU in fact made a very broad offer which would not have been compatible with the Government’s manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders.”
She added: “Let’s focus on the future, if the EU is willing to consider the UK’s very sensible proposals then the door is open…I am very happy to walk through it.”
Alison McGovern for Labour noted “the Government still blame the EU” and called for clarity on what the UK offered, asking for details to be published.
“A third of the creative industry is self-employed and this situation is a massive kick in the teeth for a group of workers already having the worst year in living memory,” declared the Shadow Culture Minister.
The SNP’s Tommy Sheppard accused ministers of “fatally undermining” festivals in the UK by refusing to maintain a visa exemption for artists.
“The Edinburgh Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world. I hope she will be aware that this event and others like it have a vital role to play in developing new work and providing a springboard for artists to then subsequently tour that work,” said the Edinburgh East MP.
His Nationalist colleague John Nicolson argued what lay at the root of the failure to get a deal was “Brexit zealotry” and also called for clarity on the terms of the UK proposals.
Ms Dinenage insisted it was “not for want of trying that we don’t get this free movement of our musicians to be able to perform and to tour across the EU or indeed vice versa”.
She added: “We fought very hard for it and, of course, our own arrangements with regards to visas and work permits mean that musicians and other performers from outside the UK are very welcome to our shores.”