Government’s refusal to fix the Brexit touring crisis exposed Jump to main content

Government’s refusal to fix the Brexit touring crisis exposed

Today (13 May), The Independent has published a story based on the legal advice that the ISM has received. It revealed “major flaws” in the Government’s opposition to visa-free touring after Brexit. While giving evidence, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden was questioned about this by MPs and has promised to write to the DCMS Select Committee with a full response to our points.

Since the Brexit Deal (or Trade and Cooperation Agreement) came into force in January 2021, a mountain of costly red tape has prevented musicians from planning tours in Europe as performances return after coronavirus. In response, organisations across the creative industries have called on the Government to negotiate a bespoke Visa Waiver Agreement (WVA) with the EU to remove a significant part of this barrier.

For months, the Government has repeatedly told Parliament and the creative sector that a VWA would not be suitable because it would require the TCA to be renegotiated as well as other reasons. However, today the ISM has published a detailed rebuttal briefing, based on legal advice from a leading QC, that directly contradicts their objections.

Ministers have claimed that a VWA would...Actually, creating a VWA could…
“require the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) to be renegotiated” (25 March 2021)…be easily encompassed in a short supplementing agreement or a Joint Declaration (JD) added to the TCA. The possibility of other agreements between the UK and EU is clearly outlined in the TCA.
“not have been compatible with the Government’s manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders” (19 January 2021)…provide an exemption only for limited number of professions and the legal text can be restricted further, for example exclusively for the creative industry, based on what is negotiated.
“not bind Member States” (19 March 2021)…be legally binding once ratified, not least because it would have to be approved by the EU Council.
only cover “a very small number of paid activities” and “ad hoc performances” (19 January 2021)...…use the legal term “ad hoc basis” to cover artists carrying out specific engagements such as a tour. But even so, guidelines or alternate terminology could be agreed with the EU to provide further clarity.
“not cover work permits” (19 January 2021)…deal with a separate issue to work permits. VWAs exist between the EU and third countries whereas EU Member States retain sovereign power over work permit rules.

ISM Chief Executive Deborah Annetts said:

‘It is extremely troubling that expert legal advice has exposed major flaws in the Government’s explanation for refusing to negotiate a Visa Waiver Agreement with the EU, which would help fix the Brexit touring crisis. With the music sector now looking beyond coronavirus, it is still virtually impossible for many creative professionals to work in Europe on a short term or freelance basis.’

‘Despite what MPs have been told by ministers, the latest legal advice has shown that it is entirely possible for the Government to create an agreement that would be compatible with their manifesto pledge, be legally binding and benefit specific professions without requiring a renegotiation of the Brexit Deal. Creating such an agreement is achievable, it simply requires the political will to deliver on the Prime Minister’s commitment to sort this mess out.’

Further information

What is a Visa Waiver Agreement?

The ISM has been holding high-level meetings with politicians and civil servants calling on the Government to negotiate a bespoke VWA with the EU for the creative industry. Separate to the Brexit Deal, it would exempt touring performers, creative teams and crews from needing to obtain a visa when seeking paid work.

This is supported by organisations across the creative industries including the Musicians’ Union, One Dance UK, Equity, BECTU, Fashion Roundtable, Society of London Theatre, the Association of British Orchestras and many others.

VWAs between the EU and third countries allow visa-free short-term visits on a reciprocal basis. In this context, “short-term” generally means 90 out of 180 days. It appears that during the trade negotiations, the EU made a standard offer to the UK for a VWA.

Analysis of the EU’s legislation database shows that the EU has entered into 28 of these arrangements since 2009 with countries like Colombia, UAE, Tonga and St Lucia. This means that a musician from Tonga now has greater access to work in Europe than UK musicians.

Importance of touring


International touring represents an essential part of many musicians’ livelihoods, ISM research shows that:

  • 44% of musicians earn up to half of their earnings in the EU/EEA (54% in 2016)
  • 43% travelled to the EU more than five times a year (39% in 2018)
  • 32% spend more than 30 days in the EU for work (41% in 2018)
  • 79% of musicians earn less than £30,000 (ISM)

About the ISM

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) is the UK's professional body for musicians and a nationally-recognised subject association for music. Since 1882, we have been dedicated to promoting the importance of music and protecting the rights of those working in the music profession.

We support nearly 11,000 music professionals across the UK and Ireland with our unrivalled legal advice and representation, comprehensive insurance and specialist services. Our members come from all areas of the music profession and from a wide variety of genres and musical backgrounds.

We campaign tirelessly in support of musicians’ rights, music education and the profession as a whole. We are a financially independent not-for-profit organisation with no political affiliation. This independence allows us the freedom to campaign on any issue affecting musicians.

For more information, please contact [email protected]