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Tory minister admits UK rejected EU’s music visa offer in order to ‘take back control’ of borders

MP for Gosport, Caroline Dinenage, speaks to reporters outside Portsmouth Cathedral - Credit: PA

A Tory minister has admitted the UK rejected a proposal by the EU to extend the music visa scheme in favour of more stringent border policies.

Culture minister Caroline Dinenage said No 10 declined the offer because it would have meant allowing “visa-free short-stays for all EU citizens”.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Dinenage said: “The EU did not offer a deal that would have worked for musicians.

“It’s quite simple, the EU in fact made a very broad offer which would not have been compatible with the government’s manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders.”

Dinenage continued: “Let’s focus on the future, if the EU is willing to consider the UK’s very sensible proposals then the door is open… I am very happy to walk through it. I will be the first one through that door.”

The minister refused to clarify what counter-offer No 10 made to salvage the scheme.

This comes after it emerged the EU had offered 90 days visa-free travelling for musicians, artists, sports people and journalists as part of the Brexit deal on the condition the UK government reciprocated in kind.

Johnson rejected the offer and put forward his own proposals, which were branded unfit for purpose by EU officials.

Dinenage came under heavy fire for the decision from SNP and Labour MPs.

SNP MP Pete Wishart, who raised an urgent question in the Commons, said touring Europe “means everything to our artists and musicians”.

Reflecting on his own experiencing touring in Europe with the band Runrig, Wishart said: “The thrill of that first tour, crammed into the Transit van with all your gear, four to a room in a cheap hotel in Paris, Rotterdam or Hamburg. Using what’s left of the fee for a post-gig beer.

“The dream that when you come back it will be a lavish tour bus, staying in five-star hotels.

“Gone, all gone. Musicians and artists mere collateral in this government’s obsession in ending freedom of movement.”

The SNP’s Tommy Sheppard said refusing to maintain a visa exemption for artists, was “fatally undermining festivals in Scotland and the United Kingdom”.

Labour former minister Ben Bradshaw called on Dinenage to release the details of Johnson’s offer.

He said: “The minister and Conservative MPs keep claiming that they made this fantastic offer but we can’t test that can we, because they haven’t published it?

“The EU has, it is there in black and white – and on page 171 of the draft agreement from March last year allowing 90-day visa-free touring by British musicians and other cultural activities.

“So will the minister now publish the government’s proposal so we can see where the truth lies?”

Dinenage said she would consult colleagues at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Home Office on what more could be published.