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AIM and IMPALA call on UK and EU officials to regroup to ensure visa-free touring across Europe

By | Published on Wednesday 13 January 2021

Live Music

The UK’s Association Of Independent Music and pan-European trade group IMPALA have respectively called on British and EU politicians and officials to return to the negotiating table to get a better deal for touring musicians in this post-Brexit age.

When the last minute UK/EU post-Brexit trade deal was published last month, just a week before it came into force, the music industry was quick to point out that there were no specific provisions for touring musicians. This means UK artists will have to abide by new rules when touring the EU, with each country having its own requirements.

In some cases that will mean musicians and crew needing to secure travel permits and/or equipment carnets. The cost and hassle of navigating that bureaucracy could prevent tours from happening, or mean that artists have to tour with session musicians and crew from EU countries to make their live activity commercially viable.

Throughout the Brexit deal negotiations, the music community called for specific measures to be included in any trade deal to ensure that British artists could tour the EU without any new bureaucracy being put in place post-Brexit, and – likewise – so that artists from EU countries could continue to perform in the UK without incurring any new costs or admin.

Such proposals enjoyed support in the political community, with various assurances being given along the way that touring musicians would be fine, providing that some sort of UK/EU trade deal was agreed. When that turned out not to be true, the music community was predictably angry.

Responding to that anger, the UK government was quick to blame EU officials, saying that British ministers had proposed a “more ambitious” reciprocal arrangement for business travellers that would have covered performers, but that Brussels had knocked that proposal back. Sources at the EU then told The Independent that, in fact, it was the UK that rejected a proposal from EU officials that would have covered touring musicians.

That both the UK and the EU are now playing the blame game has further angered the music community, with an assortment of music industry trade groups – including the Musicians’ Union, Incorporated Society Of Musicians, LIVE and the Music Managers Forum – all calling for full transparency on what exactly was discussed during the deal negotiations, as well as a firm plan for addressing the issues touring musicians now face.

Although a spokesperson for the UK government subsequently dismissed the EU claims published in The Independent, it is actually possible that both sides are technically correct. The UK may have made a proposal that the EU rejected and the EU may also have made a proposal that the UK rejected. Which is to say, both sides agreed in principle that some kind of arrangement covering touring performers was desirable, but that they couldn’t agree on quite how that would work.

If that’s true, AIM and IMPALA reckon, then the two sides should get back to the negotiating table and figure something out. The ongoing COVID shutdown actually buys a little more time for such figuring out to happen, given that touring is pretty much off the table at the moment anyway. But, music industry reps point out, if no reciprocal deal for performers can be agreed, before COVID restrictions lift, it will be even harder for the artist community and the live sector to recover.

Noting that both UK and EU reps have acknowledged “the importance of musicians and crew to continue to be able to work and tour easily post-Brexit”, AIM said yesterday that it was “calling for the two sides to speedily return to the negotiating table to resolve the situation in a way that is beneficial for the world-leading music sectors of the UK and EU so that, as touring restarts, the situation is resolved”.

Commenting on what now needs to be done, AIM CEO Paul Pacifico said: “Much about Brexit is not as the UK music industry wanted and there are, inevitably, complexities to the UK’s new relationship with the EU. However, it is essential that we focus on real issues where they arise, such as work permits, VAT and data, and work with government and EU counterparts to fix them. We must remain disciplined and focussed to ensure the music industry makes the most of every opportunity in spite of these problematic areas whilst we continue to push for a better outcome”.

Confirming that AIM’s EU counterpart IMPALA is also pushing officials on this issue in Brussels, that trade group’s Executive Chair Helen Smith added: “IMPALA has asked the EU what happened here, emphasising that a proper and straightforward visa arrangement going both ways is crucial for our members in both the UK and EU countries. Our main focus is to help table solutions that take us forward. We are hopeful that it will still be possible on issues like this where there is a distinct shared interest”.