David Furnish slams Brexit red tape amid slump in UK musicians at EU festivals

Sir Elton John and David Furnish (PA)
Sir Elton John and David Furnish (PA)

David Furnish, Elton John’s husband, has attacked the deluge of Brexit red tape and extra costs choking UK musicians trying to tour the EU, as the scale of the slump in British performers in Europe is revealed.

New analysis shared with The Independent shows that the number of British performers playing festivals across Europe this year is one-third less than before Brexit.

And the number of European acts playing at this year’s Glastonbury has plummeted by half compared to the years before Brexit, according to figures from the Best for Britain campaign group.

Mr Furnish, chief executive of Sir Elton’s Rocket Entertainment Group, said: “The new generation of artists coming through unfortunately are now finding themselves, for touring Europe, with a lot of red tape, a lot of complications and a lot of additional costs in order to launch and build a global music career.”

Calling for ministers to ease the bureaucratic burden, he said live music was “such an important part of the British cultural landscape”, with UK acts “leading the world” for decades.

Sir Elton has previously declared that he is “sick to death” of Brexit, with the superstar attacking the Tory government for a “philistine” failure to acknowledge the “crucifying” impact of red tape on touring performers.

The number of British performers scheduled to take to stages across the major festivals in Europe this summer has fallen by 32 per cent compared to 2017-19, the new figures show.

The findings mark a slight improvement on last year when British musicians playing post-Covid European festivals had fallen by 45 per cent compared to the immediate years before Brexit.

But the sobering statistics have reinforced fears around the lasting impact Britain’s “third country” status is having on young British bands and singers.

Thom Yorke has condemned ‘spineless’ decision to reject visa-free touring deal (PA)
Thom Yorke has condemned ‘spineless’ decision to reject visa-free touring deal (PA)

The Independent revealed in 2021 that the Tory government rejected an EU offer of visa-free tours by musicians to all countries in the bloc, despite blaming Brussels for the permits required.

A “standard” proposal to exempt performers from costs and bureaucracy for 90 days was turned down, sparking criticism from Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, Charlatans star Tim Burgess, Laura Marling and others.

The government said the majority of EU members – including Spain, France and Germany – had made clear that visa-free routes were available to touring UK artists.

But both British andd EU bands have struggled with Brexit changes. German punk band Trigger Cut revealed they were recently denied entry into the UK, having been asked for extra “certificates of sponsorship” from all the venues they were booked to play.

Naomi Smith, chief executive of the internationalist campaign group Best for Britain, said emerging talent was “shamefully starved” of the opportunities enjoyed by previous generations.

Music industry bosses have been invited to share their experience and views at Trade Unlocked 2023, a conference at the NEC in Birmingham next month that seeks to shape trade policies ahead of the next election.

Noel Gallagher has branded Brexit ‘a f****** unmitigated disaster’ (Getty Images)
Noel Gallagher has branded Brexit ‘a f****** unmitigated disaster’ (Getty Images)

Deborah Annetts, head of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, said the “piles” of post-Brexit paperwork “continues to cost opportunities for emerging artists”.

Ms Annetts, a member of the UK Trade and Business Commission, said the conference offered musicians “the chance to make their voice heard and work with other industries to effect meaningful change”.

It comes as Noel Gallagher branded Brexit and “absolute unmitigated disaster” and blaming the UK’s exit for food shortages. “There’s no f****** eggs in the supermarket.”

The Oasis and High Flying Birds songwriter told The Big Issue: “I feel sorry for young people growing up in this country now – Brexit has been a f****** absolute unmitigated disaster.”

The rock star said: “And it will be a living nightmare until some politician has the balls to put a referendum in a manifesto and run on it and go back into the EU.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “Musicians and artists in the creative industries are an absolutely vital part of our economy and we are committed to helping them succeed. We are supporting them to adapt to the new arrangements with the European Union and make touring and performing easier.”

They added: “We have made the case to every EU member state that musicians should be allowed to tour and perform. The majority of them, including the biggest touring markets such as Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands, have confirmed they offer visa and work permit free routes for UK performers and other creative professionals.

“We are continuing dialogue with the few remaining countries which do not offer visa or work permit-free routes.”

The UK’s domestic rules allow musicians, entertainers and from non-visa national countries, such as EU member states, to perform in the UK without requiring a visa