Post-Brexit visa rules ‘towering hurdle’ for artists, stars say

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Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stewart and Dame Julie Walters have joined some of the biggest names in British theatre to urge Boris Johnson to secure visa-free EU travel for artists.

In a letter from the Equity union, the new rules are described as a “towering hurdle” for the industry.

“Before, we were able to travel to Europe visa-free. 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,” the letter states.

Coronavirus – Mon Feb 15, 2021
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urged to secure visa-free travel to the EU for those in the arts sector (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

More than 280,000 people have signed a petition calling for a cultural work permit deal to be reached between the Government and EU.

The statement, signed by more than 100 Equity members including Miriam Margolyes, Anne-Marie Duff and Celia Imrie, was first published in the Guardian newspaper.

It adds: “For a sector that is deeply embedded in the international community – from touring theatre and dance to film, television and commercials – which must work fast, flexibly and to demand, this is a disastrous blow and will hit those already struggling and marginalised groups the hardest.”

Government financial support has proven inadequate for many performing arts workers, according to the letter.

“Not acting now will do further and irreparable harm to the UK’s creative workforce, our industries and to our standing on the international cultural stage.”

Alongside the list of signatories, members of the trade union for creative practitioners have been emailing their MPs​ to lobby on the issue.

Equity general secretary Paul W Fleming said: “Art and entertainment are a British success story. Worth more to our economy than banking, government intransigence threatens a cornerstone of our international soft power and a key export.

“More than that, the language of art and entertainment knows no boundaries; freedom of movement for our members as artists and working people is achievable, desirable and essential.”

This is not the first time prominent figures from the arts world have criticised the Government’s Brexit deal.

In January more than 100 musicians, from pop singers to classical composers, signed a letter saying performers had been “shamefully failed” by the post-Brexit travel rules.

The letter, backed by Ed Sheeran and Sting, said there is a “gaping hole where the promised free movement for musicians should be”.

In a statement to the Guardian, a UK Government spokesperson said: “We want our cultural and creative professionals to be able to work easily across Europe, in the same way EU creatives are able to work flexibly in the UK.

“Though the EU rejected proposals that would have allowed this, we hope member states will act on these calls by changing the rules they apply to UK creatives. We’re working urgently with our cultural sectors to resolve any new barriers they face, so that touring can resume as soon as it is safe to do so.”

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