The Sunday Times JANUARY 20, 2021 - by David Sanderson


Visa demands will tip performers over the edge, artists say in letter to The Times

Some of Britain's biggest musical stars, including Sir Elton John and Sir Simon Rattle, have accused the government of "shamefully failing" the country's performers with its Brexit deal.

Pop and rock figures from Ed Sheeran to the Sex Pistols have joined classical composers such as Judith Weir, master of the Queen's music, to denounce an agreement they claim will make Europe a no-go zone for musicians.

In a letter published in The Times today, signed by more than 100 musicians plus dozens of other prominent figures in the industry, they say that the government's "negotiating failure" threatens the future of cultural exchange with the Continent.

The letter, which was organised by the Liberal Democrats was signed by the violinist Nicola Benedetti and heads of the leading opera companies, plus Bob Geldof, Queen's Brian May and Roger Taylor, Joss Stone and Iron Maiden, says there is a "gaping hole" in the exit agreement where the "promised free movement for musicians should be".

The presence of Roger Daltrey, lead singer of the Who and a prominent Brexiteer, on the list indicates the scale of fears about the costs of performing in Europe, a previously lucrative domain.

For decades, Daltrey reminded the nation in 2019, Europe had been prime touring territory for Britain's cultural behemoths. "As if we didn't tour Europe before the fucking EU," he said in an interview.

The letter says musicians are already struggling because of the Covid-related ban on live music, adding that the lack of a special arrangement "will tip many performers over the edge".

Britain and the EU have blamed each other for the failure to reach an agreement that would have allowed reciprocal access for musicians to tour without visas. The EU claimed it had tabled an "ambitious" offer that would have exempted musicians from needing a visa but this had been rejected by Westminster.

The UK said the offer did not include support staff and would still have allowed individual member states to require work permits for UK artists and their staff.

The letter, also signed by Judith Weir, master of the Queen's music, and Michael Eavis, founder of Glastonbury, says that the government's "negotiating failure" threatens the future of cultural exchange with the Continent. It calls on ministers to "urgently do what it said it would do and negotiate paperwork-free travel in Europe for British artists and their equipment".

Artists and staff will need separate visas for different countries and £350 permits for individual instruments and other equipment. Hauliers carrying stage equipment can visit only three cities.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, said this week that British officials had rejected a proposal to offer exemptions to musicians and other artists. He said Britain had not had the "same ambition" on mobility of people.

A government spokesman said the EU had rejected its proposals. The EU offer "would not have worked" and would not have allowed support staff to tour.

Yesterday MPs on the culture committee heard how the ban on live music in the pandemic had exposed the difficulty artists faced in making money from streaming.

Lord Strasburger, the Liberal Democrat peer, said that while the government was "predictably" trying to blame the EU, Britain's creative artists had been "left high and dry"

He added: "The artists who signed this letter are either furious or fearful for the future of their business, or both. If the Conservative government cares about these industries and the economy, they must get back around the negotiating table and get this sorted pronto."


Sir, British musicians, dancers, actors and their support staff have been shamefully failed by their government. The deal done with the EU has a gaping hole where the promised free movement for musicians should be: everyone on a European music tour will now need costly work permits and a mountain of paperwork for their equipment. The extra costs will make many tours unviable, especially for young emerging musicians who are already struggling to keep their heads above water owing to the Covid ban on live music. This negotiating failure will tip many performers over the edge.

We urge the government to do what it said it would do and negotiate paperwork-free travel in Europe for British artists and their equipment. For the sake of British fans wanting to see European performers in the UK and British venues wishing to host them, the deal should be reciprocal.

The signatories in full

Roger Waters; Sir Simon Rattle; Dame Sarah Connolly; Sir George Benjamin; Sir Harrison Birtwistle; Nicola Benedetti; Steven Isserlis; Stephen Hough; Sir András Schiff; Judith Weir; Roderick Williams; Amanda Roocroft; Amelia Freedman; Nash Ensemble; Anna Meredith; Anna Patalong; Benjamin Baker; Bond Quartet; Brindley Sherratt; Professor Catherine Martin; Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Catriona Price; Chi-chi Nwanoku; Chris Stark, Christian Curnyn; Claudia Huckle; Dr Mark Taylor; Elizabeth Wallfisch; Gabriella Swallow; Gina McCormack; Gregory Walmsley; Harry Bicket; Hilary Summers; Jeremy Huw Williams; Jess Gillam; Joseph Middleton; Kate Royal; Lauma Skride; Levon Chilingirian; Mahaliah Edwards; Martyn Brabbins; Michael Chance; Miloš Karadaglić; Nicholas Collon; Nicky Spence; Paul Cassidy; Peter Robinson; Prof Nicholas Daniel; Professor Julian Anderson; Professor Julian Lloyd Webber; Professor Peter Fribbins; Rakhvinder Singh; Raphael Wallfisch; Rosa Mannion; Ruth Rogers; Sean Shibe; Sheku Kanneh-Mason; Tasmin Little; the Kanneh-Mason family; Sir Elton John; Ed Sheeran; Roger Daltrey; Bob Geldof; Midge Ure; Sting; Robert Plant; Peter Gabriel; Rag'n'Bone Man; Nick Mason; Aitch; Alex Kapranos; Beabadoobee; Bicep; Brett Anderson; Brian Eno; Brian May; Bryan Adams; Captain Sensible; Charlie Burchill; Chris Difford; Danny McNamara; Dave Stewart; Fryars; Gary Kemp; Gary Numan; Glass Animals; Grace Carter; Hayden Thorpe; Hot Chip; Hugh Cornwell; Iron Maiden; Jayda G; Jim Kerr; Joss Stone; Jungle; Kasai; Kero Kero Bonito; Kim Wilde; King Krule; LA Priest; Liam Gallagher; Mark King; Mick Hucknell; Nik Kershaw; Priya Ragu & Japhna Gold; Radiohead; Rick Wakeman; Roger Taylor; Ross From Friends; Rusty Egan Visage; Sex Pistols; SG Lewis; Simian Mobile Disco; SK Shlomo; Steve Norman; Superorganism; Terry Britten; The 1975; The Darkness; Will Young; Dame Evelyn Glennie; Julia Haferkorn; David Francis; Karine Polwart; Peewee Ellis; John J. Williamson; Sam Leak; Michael Eavis; Emily Eavis; John Gilhooly; Paul Mandry; Fielding Hope, James Clutton; Deborah Annetts; James Ainscough; Alasdair Tait; Annabella Coldrick; Ashutosh Khandekar; Atlas Management; Barbara Osborne; Carol Main; Carole Tongue; Claire Owen; Daniel Miller; Danny Keir; David Martin; David Taylor; Donagh Collins; Dr Aoife Monks; Felix Howard; Graham Sheffield; Howard Goodall; James McAulay; John Gidding; Keith Harris; Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp; Lucy Heyman; Mary-Alice Stack; Patrick Woodroffe; Professor Chris Collins; Rod Smallwood; Sandra Schembri; Sir David Bell; Tom Travis; Vick Bain