Lawyers have identified five false claims made by ministers for refusing to strike a deal to rescue visa-free touring of the EU, leaving performers with crippling new costs and red tape.
As The Independent revealed, despite Boris Johnson’s vow to “fix” the crisis – triggered by his Brexit deal – no talks have taken place and artists have merely been promised advice on the daunting barriers they face.
Now a legal opinion obtained by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) has torn apart the reasons given for failing to secure a visa waiver agreement (VWA) with Brussels.
The organisation also says the EU has no fewer than 28 such deals in place – which means performers in countries including Colombia, the UAE and Tonga can tour more easily than UK artists.
“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,” said Deborah Annetts, the ISM’s chief executive.
“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.”
The government claims dismissed by a QC are:
* That an agreement would require the Brexit trade deal to be renegotiated – when a “short supplementing agreement” could be added.
* That a VWA would be incompatible with “taking back control” of borders – when it would exempt a limited number of professions only.
* That it would “not bind EU member states” to waive visas – when it would be legally binding once ratified, requiring approval by the EU Council.
* That it would cover only “ad hoc performances” – when that is the legal term used by the EU to refer to artists carrying out a full tour.
* That it would “not cover work permits” – which, while correct, obscures that member states would then agree work permit rules, if any.
Ms Annetts described the legal opinion as “extremely troubling”, adding: “It simply requires the political will to deliver on the prime minister’s commitment to sort this mess out.”
It has been issued as Oliver Dowden the culture secretary, prepares to give evidence on the controversy to the Commons culture committee on Thursday.
He angered organisations representing creative artists when he said it was up to them to use their lobbying power to solve the crisis, rather than the government’s responsibility.
The Musicians’ Union, One Dance UK, Equity, BECTU, Fashion Roundtable, Society of London Theatre, the Association of British Orchestras are among bodies calling for a visa-waiver scheme.
It would allow short-term visits on a reciprocal basis, generally meaning 90 out of any 180 days – the EU proposal the UK rejected as the Brexit talks reached their climax last year.
On 24 March, the prime minister told MPs: “We must fix this. We are working flat out, bilaterally, with each individual government.”
But the department for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) has not disputed that no talks have taken place – or that no approach has been made to Brussels, about visa rules.