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Frost gets chilly reception from MPs in EU touring enquiry

Brexit’s chief negotiator Lord David Frost finally sat in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Parliamentary Committee this week to discuss the mess created for touring arts by the Trade and Cooperation Agreement he signed

MPs from all parties were clearly irate that Frost had taken over six months to attend a meeting, including one where he cancelled the same day, as they questioned him hard about how his team left the future of UK performing arts in the EU under threat of extinction. Even then, he only agreed to appear for one hour and that time was diluted by interjections from DCMS Minister, Caroline Dinenage.

Over the course of the hour, in which contempt was evident from both Frost and his interrogators, he said DCMS was in charge or sorting things out, contradicting Dineage’s statement earlier in the year, and comments by the Prime Minister who said it was Frost’s role.

Lord Frost effectively blamed the British public for voting for a Brexit that he said was always going to cause major problems to the touring sector and others. He blamed the EU for offering a visa-free touring arrangement that was too loose for Brexit voters to accept. He accused EU negotiator, Michel Barnier of being an unreliable source of information. And he suggested Elton John’s arguments against the TCA were suspect because ‘I can’t help noticing that he had his first hits before we joined the European Union. So, I think there’s probably more at play here than pure rules applying within the European Community.’

Failure to understand the subject

Setting aside that Elton John has specifically said he was speaking out for young musicians today, rather than himself, Frost’s comment showed a startling lack of understanding of the complexities of modern international touring, as Kevin Brennan MP pointed out. ‘The Musicians’ Union, of which I’m a member… and the ISM have pointed out that touring is much more complicated now across Europe, post-Brexit than it would have been before Britain joined the European Community.’

Frost’s apparent failure to understand the subject on which he had been negotiating was equally evident on the matter of cabotage, which was avoided by agreement across 25 European nations, including Britain, before it joined the Common Market, and which makes visa, work permit, carnet and merchandising issues post-Brexit seem inconsequential. When asked which departments were charged with managing the British touring crisis, he failed to mention the Department for Transport (DfT), which is supposed to be addressing cabotage.

However, later in the discussion, he said that the DfT was about to launch a consultation offering some potential solutions to the cabotage issue. Again, the MPs present expressed dismay that this was happening over half a year after Lord Frost’s team had become aware that the EU was going to stand its ground on cabotage. Lord Frost stated that the impasse between his team and Barnier’s over visa-waivers meant that many subjects, such as performance arts touring could not progress further in the negotiations. But MPs accused Lord Frost of using the Covid lockdown as a smokescreen, rather than an opportunity to fix things. He dismissed this.

Although Caroline Dinenage attempted to defend the government on how negotiations with individual EU member states were progressing, Frost admitted that he knew that the touring industry was going to be badly hit at the latest by last November, since when almost nothing has been achieved.

Indeed, the complacent truth behind the government’s’ ‘working flat out’, as the Prime Minister called it, was exemplified earlier in the week when the Carry On Touring campaign received a dismissive letter from the Cabinet Office signed, ‘Ollie’.