UK performers say post-Brexit visa rules spell disaster

LONDON — Leading British actors including Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Julie Walters warned the government on Tuesday that the U.K. culture sector faces irreparable damage unless artists can tour the European Union without visas.

Since Britain made its final split from the EU at the end of 2020, U.K. citizens can no longer live and work anywhere in the bloc. British artists now have to comply with differing rules in the 27 EU nations, negotiating visas for performers and permits for equipment. Many say the costs and red tape will make it impossible for British artists to perform on the continent, endangering the country’s status as a cultural powerhouse.

In a letter from actors’ union Equity, more than 100 U.K. performers said post-Brexit immigration rules meant “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 urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson “to negotiate new terms with the EU.”

“Not acting now will do further and irreparable harm to the U.K.’s creative workforce, our industries and to our standing on the international cultural stage,” said the letter, which follows a similar appeal last month from more than 100 leading musicians including Ed Sheeran and Sting.

A musicians’ representative said Tuesday that Britain’s 111 billion pound ($154 billion) a year creative sector would be irreparably damaged if the problems weren’t sorted out within a few months.

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, told lawmakers that the sector was facing “an extraordinary crisis.”

“We are going to lose this incredibly important part of our economy” unless the government can arrange a visa-waiver agreement, she told Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

“Musicians are already thinking in quite desperate terms whether they have a career left or whether they are going to have to retrain in some other capacity,” Annetts said.

Britain and the EU each blame the other for rejecting terms on artists’ travel as part of the Brexit deal.

The British government says the EU divorce deal can’t be renegotiated but it will seek bilateral agreements for touring artists with individual EU members.