Blog: Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart call for “towering hurdle” of Brexit visa problems for artists to be solved – NME

Legendary stars Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are among the latest names calling for the resolving of the ongoing argument surrounding visa-free touring for UK artists and crew in Europe post-Brexit.

Today (February 16), MPs are set to question Digital and Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage over the government’s handling of Brexit negotiations which failed to achieve a visa-free deal for touring parties in the European Union.

Many within the UK music industry were left reeling in anger at Dinenage’s response to a debate in Parliament last week where she again rejected the idea of a visa-free “musicians passport” for artists and crew, and repeated claims that the EU was at fault despite calling for an end to “the blame game”.

Now, a new letter from performing arts union Equity to the Prime Minister sees a number of stars including McKellen and Stewart asking for the government to change the “towering hurdle” that new Brexit rules currently represent for touring musicians and theatre performers looking to perform in Europe post-COVID.

“Before, we were able to travel to Europe visa-free,” the letter says. “Now we have to pay hundreds of pounds, fill in form after form, and spend weeks waiting for approval – just so we can do our jobs.

“For a sector that is deeply embedded in the international community – from touring theatre and dance to film, television and commercials – which must work fast, flexibly and to demand, this is a disastrous blow and will hit those already struggling and marginalised groups the hardest.”

Ian McKellen
Sir Ian McKellen is among those to have signed a new letter calling for a change in post-Brexit visa laws for touring artists. Credit: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

After over 280,000 people signed a petition calling for the government to establish visa-free touring for artists and crew through EU member states after Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal failed to do so, the campaign was debated by MPs in Parliament earlier this month. However, the UK music industry said the UK’s response was “not good enough”.

“It just seems that everybody involved was hugely supportive of the plight of musicians…apart from the one person who could actually something about it,” The Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess told NME.

“They have made it about immigration when it really isn’t. It’s about culture, but we seem to have a government that doesn’t care too much about anything connected with the arts.”

Cross-party MPs repeated fears that the new added huge costs to future live music tours of the continent would prevent rising and developing artists from being able to afford it, as well as claims from European promoters that they’re likely to book fewer UK acts for events and that a great deal of jobs and income for crew, haulage and production will be lost to the EU with operations based in Britain now unviable.

Another repeated sentiment was that Brexit only stood to damage the UK’s “soft power” as a leading force in music, and that visa-free travel throughout the EU for artists and crew would be the easiest solution.

After the UK government said they put the responsibility for the lack of arrangements for artists at the foot of the EU and the European Commission then denied that they had rejected the UK’s “ambitious proposals”, a recent saw Caroline Dineage reject the idea that negotiating visa-free touring was an option and repeated that “the UK pushed for ambitious arrangements” but claim that “quite simply the EU rejected this and there was no counter offer”.

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