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Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, The Who members attack British government over EU deal which has ‘shamefully failed’ British musicians

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(Image credit: Neil Godwin/Total Guitar Magazine/Future via Getty Images)

Members of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen and The Who have joined Iron Maiden, Radiohead, Sex Pistols, Sir Elton John and a host of leading figures from the music industry in accusing Boris Johnson’s government of “shamefully” failing British musicians in striking a Brexit deal which could make European tours “unviable.”

Robert Plant, Roger Waters, Brian May and Roger Daltrey have co-signed an open letter attacking the British government’s “negotiating failure” in Brexit talks with the EU, as anger mounts over revelations that the UK rejected a visa-free touring plan for musicians and their crew offered by the EU.

Over the past week, the UK government and the EU have offered conflicting reports of the conversations which took place in regards to the paperwork and permissions deemed necessary for British musicians to perform across Europe. A degree of clarity emerged this week, however, when the Conservative MP for Gosport and Minister of State (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) Caroline Dinenage admitted that there had been a “very broad” offer” from the EU, which “would not have been compatible with the government’s manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders.” Now leading British musicians have issued a strongly-worded open letter to Boris Johnson’s government demanding that it “urgently do what it said it would do and negotiate paperwork-free travel in Europe for British artists and their equipment”.

In a letter published in The Times, also signed by Brian Eno, The Darkness, Glastonbury festival chief Michael Eavis and Sir Simon Rattle, the musicians wrote: “British musicians, dancers, actors and their support staff have been shamefully failed by their government. The deal done with the EU has a gaping hole where the promised free movement for musicians should be: everyone on a European music tour will now need costly work permits and a mountain of paperwork for their equipment.

“The extra costs will make many tours unviable, especially for young emerging musicians who are already struggling to keep their heads above water owing to the COVID ban on live music. This negotiating failure will tip many performers over the edge,” the letter continues.

“We urge the government to do what it said it would do and negotiate paperwork-free travel in Europe for British artists and their equipment. For the sake of British fans wanting to see European performers in the U.K. and British venues wishing to host them, the deal should be reciprocal.”

Back in June 2016, on the eve of the Brexit vote, the Musicians Unions explicitly warned that exiting the EU could have exactly these consequences for British musicians. 

“We could expect touring to become more difficult and potentially see British musicians having to apply for visas in order to travel within Europe,” the MU stated. “Given the cost and difficulty many musicians face in obtaining visas for work in countries such as the U.S, this would be very unwelcome.”

In 2018, a number of artists wrote an open letter to then-British Prime Minister Theresa May warning of the dangers of Brexit to the country’s music industry.

“We are about to make a very serious mistake regarding our giant industry and the vast pool of yet undiscovered genius that lives on this little island,” the letter warned. “Why are we closing down these possibilities for ourselves and for those as yet unknown to us? Brexit will impact every aspect of the music industry. From touring, sales, copyright legislation, to royalty collation. Indeed it already has.” 

Somewhat ironically, given his decision to sign the letter in The Times, in 2019 The Who’s frontman Roger Daltrey dismissed the idea that Brexit might prove problematic for British musicians

Asked if Brexit was going to be bad for rock music, Daltrey responded, "No. What's it got to do with the rock business?"

"As if we didn't tour in Europe before the fucking EU! Oh, give it up! If you wanna sign up to be ruled by a fucking mafia, you do it. Like being governed by FIFA." 

In a 2018 interview Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson revealed that he voted for Brexit and suggested that it would not negatively impact upon his band’s touring plans. 

“Interesting thing about Brexit was that I was one of the people that voted for it,” Dickinson said. “I’m quite relaxed about the idea.”

"There's a lot of nonsense and scare stories being made up by both sides which I think is pretty immature. Brexit will enable us to be more flexible and I think that people in Europe will get an advantage from that.”

“Iron Maiden music is global music – we have fans everywhere. I don't see any problem with touring Australia; that's not part of the EU. There's no problem with touring in Japan; that's not part of the EU. I don't see any problem with touring America; Oh, let me see – that's not part of the EU. Do those musicians have problems coming to Europe? No.”

As it now stands, musicians and their crew need separate visas for each of the 27 EU member states, and vehicles carrying equipment are allowed to visit only three cities per EU visit under current rules.

Variety reports that a petition seeking a Europe-wide visa-free work permit for touring professionals and artists has now drawn more than 263,000 signatories, which means that the issue will be debated in parliament.