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Digital and Culture minister Caroline Dinenage (pictured) has admitted Government is not currently negotiating with EU member states over touring arrangements for artists and crew, despite being told the Brexit deal has left the live music industry in crisis, with musicians and crew facing a significant drop in earnings.

Speaking at the EU Visa Arrangements for Creative Workers evidence session hosted by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Dinenage heard from representatives across the creative sectors, including music, theatre and screen who called for Europe-wide, visa-free, work permits for UK touring professionals and artists.

Dinenage said an EU-wide agreement would be very complicated and it would be more successful to make arrangements with individual member states: “My door remains open and if [the EU] want to come and reopen that conversation on another level—not the whole Brexit agreement, but this particular aspect, which did not make it into the final agreement—absolutely I am very happy to do that. But parts of this are down to individual member states.

“Some individual member states do not impose visas or work permits; some apply both. Some have very straightforward rules and guidance; with some, it seems very, very complicated and quite difficult to get to grips with what they actually are.

“We are very keen to keep communicating with member states to sort through all that, to try to facilitate—and if there were the opportunity for bilateral agreements on this, we would be very, very happy to discuss that, but clearly, bilateral agreements are very difficult, because of international law and guidance that they on the whole have to make agreements that work equally for every other country around the world.”

Incorporated Society of Musicians CEO Deborah Annetts said Government should provide “cast-iron” advice to musicians looking to work in European member states, which currently have different entry requirements for UK acts.

She said, “Prior to Covid, there was a huge amount of exchange. You particularly see that in music. Musicians tend to go backwards and forwards across borders. They can visit six or seven countries in four or five weeks. It is not about immigration; it is very much about mobility supporting culture.

“At the moment, we have a window, bizarrely enough because of Covid, to try and sort this out, so we need to really pick this up and move it forward. I keep coming back to the fact that there are two different aspects of this. The visa issue needs to be dealt with through the EU Commission. Work permits are very much a nationally devolved issue. If we had a Government lead here, we really could move forward on this with bilaterals.”

She said that if the current restrictions were maintained it would significantly impact the earnings of musicians: “For musicians, there is absolutely no doubt that the sector that is going to be hit hardest is the emerging talent—youngsters in a band and those just coming out of music college. There is simply not enough work in the UK to sustain a music career, and that has been the case for the last 20-odd years.

“It is for that reason that musicians have been touring Europe extensively, and we have seen musicians earning about 50% of their earnings from working in Europe.”

Dinenage reiterated that the issued had arisen because the EU rejected Government’s proposals: “The proposals that they put on the table would not have addressed the sectors’ concerns. There was a number of reasons why they were not binding. They did not include touring—only ad hoc performances. They did not include the key technical staff, who, as you have already heard from your witnesses, are absolutely vital, and they did not address the key issue of work permits. There were some real issues with that., I am really, really keen to look at this again if the EU are willing to reconsider.”