UK Wants to Target Deals with EU Members on Creative Work Permits

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Britain's government said Tuesday it intends to seek individual deals with each of the 27 EU member states on work permits for the creative industries, as anger grows among performers shut out of the bloc since Brexit.

Following Britain's definitive departure from the EU at the end of 2020, the government has faced mounting criticism over its failure to secure visa-free travel for artists and crew in a December free trade deal.

Speaking to a parliamentary committee, culture minister Caroline Dinenage said while the "door remained open" to more talks with the EU, reaching a solution covering the entire bloc would be "very complicated."

She said that success was more likely "through negotiations with individual states".

"The biggest issue here is the work permit issue and that is very much within the gift of the individual member states. And that's why we would be targeting our work there," Dinenage added.

MPs heard testimony from industry representatives who painted a grim outlook for the sector if touring and travel in the EU could not be eased.

- 'It's a crisis now' -

"I think the adverse impact of Brexit to the creative industries and in particular the freelance community has become even more stark," Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, said.

"It's a crisis now -- so we think we need to have that urgent conversation between government and the EU Commission," she added.

She highlighted the twin impacts of Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic on performers.

Paule Constable, a lighting designer with Freelancers Make Theatre Work, said the workforce had been "decimated" in the live performing arts sector.

"We're hearing anecdotal evidence from people saying things like 'I feel like I'm having to make a choice about whether I'm British or a musician'," Constable added.

British stars including Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Julie Walters have lent their names to a petition backed by the actors' union Equity urging the UK government to secure visa-free travel in the EU for artists.

"Before, we were able to travel to Europe visa-free," said the petition, which has gathered 280,000 signatories.

"Now we have to pay hundreds of pounds, fill in form after form and spend weeks waiting for approval -- just so we can do our jobs."

While Britain insists the blame lies with EU inflexibility during the trade negotiations, Brussels argues that London was fixated on ending freedom of movement for EU citizens coming to Britain.