A cabinet minister has been ridiculed for bragging about a deal to save visa-free music tours in little Liechtenstein – a deal the UK rejected for the 27-country EU.
Oliver Dowden has come under fire after revealing that a trade deal with three states in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) included a chapter aimed at removing barriers for performing artists and their teams.
“Glad that our new trade agreement with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein makes it easy for musicians, performers and support teams to tour there,” tweeted the Culture Secretary.
In fact, the fine print of the text revealed that no final deal has been reached with Iceland – and the deal with Norway may not come into effect for a year.
Moreover, the objective of the agreement is identical to that proposed by the EU in the Brexit trade negotiations which, like The independent revealed in January, the UK rejected.
A roadie tweeted Mr. Dowden to say: “In 22 years of touring, I have worked 5 gigs in Norway, 2 gigs in Iceland and * check notes * 0 gigs in Liechtenstein.”
And Owen Roberts, Welsh guitarist and songwriter, said: “I look forward to the next working tsunami in Liechtenstein.
“After 20 years of experience, it might be nicer to be able to tour easily in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain (and the Balearics), Sweden, Portugal, Belgium, Finland. … ”
The alpine microstate of Liechtenstein is just 160 square kilometers and has just under 39,000 inhabitants, roughly the same population as Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.
The capital Vaduz has 5,696 inhabitants. The strength of its musical and theatrical scene is unknown.
The EFTA deal comes amid growing criticism of the government for refusing to reopen talks with the EU to ease the mountain of red tape faced by touring British artists when pandemic restrictions relax.
Despite Boris Johnson’s much-publicized promise to ‘fix’ the crisis, little to no talks have taken place and the artists have simply been promised advice on the obstacles they face.
Mr Dowden angered organizations representing creative artists when he said it was up to them to use their lobbying power to resolve the crisis, rather than the responsibility of the government.
The Musicians’ Union, One Dance UK, Equity, BECTU, the Fashion Roundtable, the Society of London Theater and the Association of British Orchestras are among the organizations applying for a visa waiver program.
This would allow short-term visits on a reciprocal basis, which typically means 90 days out of 180. The agreement with the EFTA States allows its performers to be on site for 90 days over a period of time. six months.
When the EU’s similar proposal was rejected, ministers claimed it would undermine the policy to end the free movement of citizens after Brexit.