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Music tours 'unviable' in EU: UK stars blast government over 'gaping hole' in Brexit trade deal

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An anti-Brexit protest by musicians and supporters near the Houses of Parliament in London, January 10, 2019.
An anti-Brexit protest by musicians and supporters near the Houses of Parliament in London, January 10, 2019.   -   Copyright  ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP
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Some of Britain's biggest music stars from both the pop and classical worlds are among more than 100 industry figures who have lambasted the UK government over a "gaping hole" for musicians in the post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.

In a letter to The Times, they say the end of visa-free touring in Europe "will make many tours unviable, especially for young emerging musicians" already struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"The deal done with the EU has a gaping hole where the promised free movement for musicians should be: everyone on a European music tour will now need costly work permits and a mountain of paperwork for their equipment," the letter says. "This negotiating failure will tip many performers over the edge."

Signatories to the letter include figures from across the musical spectrum and spanning the generations: from Ed Sheeran, Sting, Sir Elton John and the Sex Pistols to conductor Sir Simon Rattle, violinist Nicola Benedetti and composer Judith Weir.

They call on the government "to do what it said it would do and negotiate paperwork-free travel in Europe for British artists and their equipment".

Conditions should be the same for artists on both sides of the Channel, the musicians add. "For the sake of British fans wanting to see European performers in the UK and British venues wishing to host them, the deal should be reciprocal," the letter concludes.

One notable signatory is Roger Daltrey, lead singer of The Who and a prominent Brexit supporter.

"As if we didn't tour Europe before the f***ing EU," he retorted to a journalist in 2019 when quizzed about the likely effect of Brexit on European tours.

Musicians and music crews were not included among professions exempted from the need for business-trip visas in the Brexit deal.

With the UK now outside the European Union and its Single Market, artists and staff may need visas for some individual countries and costly permits for equipment. European musicians visiting the UK will also be affected.

The failure to secure a deal for performers has brought a war of words between the British government and Brussels.

The EU's draft legal text published in March 2020 included a clear exemption from restrictions for "artists performing an activity on an ad-hoc basis".

EU officials say the UK refused to consider a chapter on "mobility". "I very much regretted the fact that when it comes to mobility between the two sides that the British didn’t display any greater ambition. We had a number of initial proposals on this," EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the Financial Times last week.

The EU offer on musicians "would not have been compatible with the Government’s manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders," UK Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage told parliament on Tuesday.

A petition calling on the British government to negotiate a review of the rules for musicians touring in the 27-nation EU had drawn more than 250,000 signatories by last week, including UK artists Laura Marling, Louis Tomlinson and rockers Biffy Clyro.

Below is the full list of signatories to the Times letter:

Roger Waters; Sir Simon Rattle; Dame Sarah Connolly; Sir George Benjamin; Sir Harrison Birtwistle; Nicola Benedetti; Steven Isserlis; Stephen Hough; Sir András Schiff; Judith Weir; Roderick Williams; Amanda Roocroft; Amelia Freedman; Nash Ensemble; Anna Meredith; Anna Patalong; Benjamin Baker; Bond Quartet; Brindley Sherratt; Professor Catherine Martin; Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Catriona Price; Chi-chi Nwanoku; Chris Stark, Christian Curnyn; Claudia Huckle; Dr Mark Taylor; Elizabeth Wallfisch; Gabriella Swallow; Gina McCormack; Gregory Walmsley; Harry Bicket; Hilary Summers; Jeremy Huw Williams; Jess Gillam; Joseph Middleton; Kate Royal; Lauma Skride; Levon Chilingirian; Mahaliah Edwards; Martyn Brabbins; Michael Chance; Miloš Karadaglić; Nicholas Collon; Nicky Spence; Paul Cassidy; Peter Robinson; Prof Nicholas Daniel; Professor Julian Anderson; Professor Julian Lloyd Webber; Professor Peter Fribbins; Rakhvinder Singh; Raphael Wallfisch; Rosa Mannion; Ruth Rogers; Sean Shibe; Sheku Kanneh-Mason; Tasmin Little; the Kanneh-Mason family; Sir Elton John; Ed Sheeran; Roger Daltrey; Bob Geldof; Midge Ure; Sting; Robert Plant; Peter Gabriel; Rag’n’Bone Man; Nick Mason; Aitch; Alex Kapranos; Beabadoobee; Bicep; Brett Anderson; Brian Eno; Brian May; Bryan Adams; Captain Sensible; Charlie Burchill; Chris Difford; Danny McNamara; Dave Stewart; Fryars; Gary Kemp; Gary Numan; Glass Animals; Grace Carter; Hayden Thorpe; Hot Chip; Hugh Cornwell; Iron Maiden; Jayda G; Jim Kerr; Joss Stone; Jungle; Kasai; Kero Kero Bonito; Kim Wilde; King Krule; LA Priest; Liam Gallagher; Mark King; Mick Hucknall; Nik Kershaw; Priya Ragu & Japhna Gold; Radiohead; Rick Wakeman; Roger Taylor; Ross From Friends; Rusty Egan Visage; Sex Pistols; SG Lewis; Simian Mobile Disco; SK Shlomo; Steve Norman; Superorganism; Terry Britten; The 1975; The Darkness; Will Young; Dame Evelyn Glennie; Julia Haferkorn; David Francis; Karine Polwart; Peewee Ellis; John J. Williamson; Sam Leak; Michael Eavis; Emily Eavis; John Gilhooly; Paul Mandry; Fielding Hope, James Clutton; Deborah Annetts; James Ainscough; Alasdair Tait; Annabella Coldrick; Ashutosh Khandekar; Atlas Management; Barbara Osborne; Carol Main; Carole Tongue; Claire Owen; Daniel Miller; Danny Keir; David Martin; David Taylor; Donagh Collins; Dr Aoife Monks; Felix Howard; Graham Sheffield; Howard Goodall; James McAulay; John Gidding; Keith Harris; Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp; Lucy Heyman; Mary-Alice Stack; Patrick Woodroffe; Professor Chris Collins; Rod Smallwood; Sandra Schembri; Sir David Bell; Tom Travis; Vick Bain