On 24 March Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to address the gaping holes that Lord Frost negotiated in the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), including artist and crew visas, work permits, carnets, transport, taxes and merchandise sales.
Last week, the European Parliament concluded the four-month scrutiny of the deal, something the UK Parliament was denied by its own government, and voted almost unanimously to pass it into law. Johnson hailed this as the last step towards the UK’s independence, but made no mention of the thousands of businesses and jobs across many sectors that have been calling out for help. Yet in March he claimed the sector was a vital contributor to the UK economy and the lives of its people and said that ‘We must fix this.’
Since then, there has been silence.
Lord Frost, who is credited with negotiating the deal and is supposed to be in charge of the matter, has put off meeting Parliament’s committee until June 10th and no meetings have been held with his European counterparts about it.
In a very frank letter from organisations including UK Music, the Incorporated Society of Musicians, the Musicians Union, Bectu, Equity, the Creative Industries Federation and 300 other institutions and individuals, the Prime Minister was urged to make good his pledge.
‘We are extremely concerned by the lack of progress which has been achieved over the last three months to unravel the mountain of costly bureaucracy and red tape which now faces the creative industries,’ the letter reads. ‘You stated that the Government is working ‘flat out’ with individual EU member states and we understand that the immediate focus is to improve their guidance around entry and work requirements. However, this by itself is not sufficient to deliver frictionless mobility for our sector which was a commitment during the Brexit negotiations.’
The letter repeated the offers the creative industries have made to the Government since the agreement was published.
‘In the absence of a clear plan from your Government, we are proposing four measures to guarantee the survival of our sector. Firstly, your Government should negotiate a bespoke Visa Waiver Agreement (VWA) with the EU for our sector, covering all creative professionals including technical and support staff as well as journalists.
‘We have taken legal advice from a leading QC who has advised us that a VWA would be legally binding and be compatible with your manifesto pledge to take back control of our borders. It would not require a renegotiation of the TCA. We urge you to engage with the EU Commission and move forward with this proposal, which would be hugely beneficial for our sector, add certainty for the future and send a strong message that the UK Government is doing everything it can to protect our world leading industry.
‘We are also calling on your Government to negotiate bilateral agreements with key individual EU Member States that do not currently offer cultural exemptions for work permits, or which are the most important financially for creative workers.
The Government’s response was non-committal and evasive, ‘As the prime minister has said, we are working flat out with the industry on plans to support the creative sectors tour in Europe.
‘We have already produced guidance to help artists understand what’s required in different countries and are exploring proposals to provide further practical help, as well as engaging directly with EU member states.’
Horace Trubridge, Leader of the Musicians Union said bluntly, ‘Our patience is wearing thin, and we have seen no signs whatsoever that ‘ministers are working flat out to fix the problem’.’
Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians which coordinated the letter, is clearly unimpressed with the response, ‘It is extremely frustrating that despite the firm commitment made by the Prime Minister last month to fix the crisis facing the creative industries, we have not witnessed any real progress achieved by his officials to deliver on this pledge.’
‘Unravelling the huge bureaucratic obstacles preventing touring musicians and other creative workers from working in Europe is now an urgent priority as we look beyond coronavirus, otherwise work will be lost and businesses will go under.’
‘This letter should send a strong message to the Prime Minister that empty promises will not cut it, and to sort this mess out the Government must negotiate a bespoke visa waiver agreement with the EU as well as bilateral deals on work permits with key EU Member States.’
Alan Bishop, CEO of the Creative Industries Federation, tweeted, ‘At this vital time, we urge you to take advantage of the many opportunities to enable even more impressive success and global impact across the UK’s creative industries.’