The row around visa-free travel for UK and EU musicians could be ended by changing one UK immigration rule, according to campaign group UK Europe Artswork. Founder of the group, Ian Smith, has urged the Home Office to exempt EU musicians from needing a certificate of sponsorship to enter the UK.
Mr Smith claims that exempting EU musicians from certificate of sponsorship requirements will fit with an offer made by Brussels that UK government officials reportedly rejected. He told MPs: “The solution could easily sit on top of the UK’s post-Brexit rules if the government adopts the pre-authorisation system that British visitors to the EU face from 2022.”
The UK Europe Artswork founder believes that the solution could be a ‘game changer’. He said: “By simply having a tick box on either system, you could be an exempted occupation.”
EU offers exemptions
According to Mr Smith the EU has offered exemptions and said: “If the UK could offer the same thing, without a certificate of sponsorship, we would then instantly get rid of that requirement for a work permit in the UK and a work permit in any of the EU 27.”
When asked why the UK government was not giving any consideration to such a plan, Mr Smith replied: “I can’t think of a good reason.”
According to Smith, even if the government said it would exempt EU musicians from certificate of sponsorship requirements, ministers could still say they were ‘taking back control of Britain’s borders’.
The solution suggested by Mr Smith follows accusations aimed at the government of ‘misleading MPs’ over its failure to uphold a post-Brexit promise that visa- and permit-free touring for musicians and their ensembles was not at risk.
The government came under heavy criticism and a petition was started, endorsed by legendary musicians including Sir Elton John, Sting, Ronan Keating and more. A letter of protest was also sent to Downing Street, warning that the absence of visa-free travel would jeopardise careers and one of Britain’s most successful exports, music.
Culture Secretary rules out reopening talks
However, the UK’s Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, has quashed any hope that the issue will be resolved anytime soon. Dowden said that reopening negotiations with the EU is ‘not on the cards.’ Instead, Dowden has urged musicians to lobby EU governments directly to remove any red tape and indicated that musicians would receive cash help to cover new costs.
Mr Smith slammed Dowden’s suggestion, saying: “Money is not the problem – it’s about ease of access to the markets.”
The tit-for-tat spat over visa-free touring for musicians has seen the UK and Brussels each blame each other. Reports did emerge that Britain had rejected an offer made by the EU, which included 90-day permit-free travel for musicians.
The UK government vehemently denies being responsible for the collapse of any deal. However, the UK’s tough new immigration rules do require EU musicians to obtain a certificate of sponsorship from an event organiser before they are permitted to tour in the UK.
SNP MP and former band member of Runrig, Pete Wishart, praised the solution presented by Mr Smith, but added that it would likely be rejected by ministers because of their ‘obsession’ with being tough on UK immigration.
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