Representatives from the live music industry, and Elton John, have sharply criticised the Government’s handling of the post-Brexit crisis for the touring industry resulting from a lack of agreement with the EU over visa issues and movement of equipment.

John has warned MPs that the UK music industry could lose “a generation of talent” because of post-Brexit restrictions on touring the EU.

Under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) promoters have said it is no longer possible to start European tours in the UK, while UK firms have moved to mainland Europe in order to avoid issues with the movement of equipment. There are major concerns about a lack of visa-free travel in the EU, while culture secretary Oliver Dowden has been derided over his announcement that British musicians can now tour without a visa in Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

LIVE Touring group head Craig Stanley and Noel McClean from performing arts union Bectu were among those to give evidence at Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee evidence session yesterday, 10 June.

During the session, Stanley read out a statement from Elton John, which can be read in full below. In it he said, “We are currently in grave danger of losing a generation of talent due to the gaping holes in the Government’s trade deal. New and emerging artists will be unable to tour Europe freely – an essential part of their education and development – due to the prohibitive costs of visas, carnets and permits.”

Brexit negotiator-turned-government minister David Frost was heavily criticised for the lack of progress toward an agreement with the EU but Frost failed to attend the meeting. As a result, DCMS Committee chair Julian Knight MP issued a robust statement that concluded with the following: “It isn’t acceptable for Lords not to be accountable when they hold high office. I and this Committee look forward to Lord Frost joining us at the rearranged date and we will not truck any further cancellation.”

McClean said, “Various ministers have promised that they’re working very hard, the prime minister has said that he’s working flat out to fix this issue. We’ve had these repeated promises that they are working on it and we will see the results very soon. [Frost’s absence] just adds to the reasonable feeling our members have that the Government either doesn’t get it, or just doesn’t care.”

Stanley pointed out that the issue went far beyond artists and was having a major impact on the supply chain and all those who work within it: “I’m equally concerned about all the behind-the-scenes stuff. For every musician on stage, there are ten, 20, 50, even 100 people who have got him or her there.”

The evidence session can be watched here.

Elton John’s statement in full:

“Last month Rocket Entertainment CEO David Furnish, Marshall Arts Craig Stanley, Lord Paul Strasberger and I met with Lord Frost  to spell out the damage the trade agreement he negotiated with Europe is doing to the UK’s music industry and to try to find practical solutions and ways forward. Put bluntly, we are currently in grave danger of losing a generation of talent due to the gaping holes in the government’s trade deal. New and emerging artists will be unable to tour Europe freely – an essential part of their education and development – due to the prohibitive costs of visas,carnets and permits.

However despite this looming catastrophe,  the government seems unable or unwilling to fix this gaping hole in their trade deal and defaults to blaming the EU rather than finding ways out of this mess. The situation is already critical and touring musicians, crews and support staff are already losing their livelihood.

I want to be clear that the issues of visa free and permit free touring aren’t about the impact on me and artists who tour arenas and stadiums. We are lucky enough to have the support staff, finance and infrastructure to cut through the red tape that Lord Frosts no deal has created. This gravest of situations is about the damage to the next generation of musicians and emerging artists, whose careers will stall before they’ve even started due to this infuriating blame game. If I had faced the financial and logistical obstacles facing young musicians now when i started out, I’d never have had the opportunity to build the foundations of my career and i very much doubt i’d be where I am today.

During our meeting Lord Frost said trying to solve this issue is a long process. Unfortunately our industry doesn’t have time. It is dying now. The government have broken the promise they outlined in 2020 to protect musicians and other creative industries from the impact of Brexit on tours to Europe. They now need to find solutions in both the short and long term to ensure the UK music industry continues to thrive.

Due to the halt that COVID has imposed on touring, we have a window of opportunity. I call on the government to sort this mess out or we risk losing future generations of world beating talent. This is about whether one of the UK’s most successful industries, worth £111bn a year, is allowed to prosper and contribute hugely to both our cultural and economic wealth, or crash and burn.”