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Lawyers expose ‘false claims’ made by ministers over visa-free music tours of EU after Brexit

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden angered organisations representing creative artists when he said it was up to them to use their lobbying power to solve the visa crisis, rather than it being the government’s responsibility - Credit: PA

Lawyers have revealed five ‘false claims’ made by ministers they say prove the government refused to strike a deal to rescue visa-free touring in the EU.

Legal opinion obtained by The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) found ministers misled performers about the reason behind not pursuing a Visa Waiver Agreement (WVA) with Brussels last year.

In fact, the organisation found that no fewer than 28 such deals already existed between the EU and other non-EU countries such as Colombia, the UAE, and Tonga.

“Despite what MPs have been told by ministers, the latest legal advice has shown that it is entirely possible for the government to create an agreement,” said Deborah Annetts, the ISM’s chief executive.

“With the music sector now looking beyond coronavirus, it is still virtually impossible for many creative professionals to work in Europe on a short-term or freelance basis.”

The legal advice, written a QC, dismissed the government’s claim that it would need to reopen the Brexit trade deal in order to secure an agreement on music visas, when it could apply a “short supplementing agreement” instead.

It also said a VWA was compatible with “taking back control” of borders because it exempts a very limited number of professions and that such an agreement would be legally binding, as it would have to be ratified by the EU Council.

The lawyers also point out that an agreement would cover artists carrying out a full tour and that while it does not cover “work permits”, member states would agree to work permit rules, if any.

Annetts described the legal opinion as “extremely troubling”, adding: “It simply requires the political will to deliver on the prime minister’s commitment to sort this mess out.”

It has been issued as Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, prepares to give evidence on the controversy to the Commons culture committee on Thursday.

He angered organisations representing creative artists when he said it was up to them to use their lobbying power to solve the crisis, rather than the government’s responsibility.

The Musicians’ Union, One Dance UK, Equity, BECTU, Fashion Roundtable, Society of London Theatre, the Association of British Orchestras are among bodies calling for a visa-waiver scheme.