New visa rules for British artists, actors and theatre workers who want to work in Europe after Brexit are a “towering hurdle” that must be urgently addressed, according to an open letter signed by stars including Sir Ian McKellen, Julie Walters and Patrick Stewart.
In the letter from the performing arts union Equity, some of the biggest names in British theatre have implored the prime minister to go back to the negotiating table to ensure visa-free work in the EU.
The letter states that creative practitioners are desperate to work in Europe once pandemic restrictions lift but “the current Brexit deal is a towering hurdle to that”.
“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,” it says.
Creative workers have already lost work because of “the cost and bureaucracy that now comes with hiring British talent”, the letter states, with 31% of Equity members saying they have seen adverts asking for EU passport holders only to apply for jobs.
“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,” they say.
Brexit means that before travelling to work in a number of EU countries many working in the arts now need to apply for short-term work permits.
Pianist Joseph Middleton wrote in the Guardian that a recital in Spain would now cost him £600 in visa-related bills, as well as extra bureaucracy in the form of providing recent certified bank statements and proof of income.
The letter, which is also signed by Miriam Margolyes, Ricky Tomlinson and Anne-Marie Duff, says the timing could not be worse because the industry is “reeling from the closure of venues and the banning of live events as a result of the pandemic”.
They write that many creative workers have fallen through the gaps of financial support offered by the government with 40% of Equity members not fitting the eligibility criteria for the self-employment income support Scheme or the coronavirus job retention scheme.
“Prime minister, we urge you to negotiate new terms with the EU, allowing creative practitioners to travel to the EU visa-free for work, and for our European counterparts to be able to do the same in the UK,” they state.
“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.”
Equity’s general secretary, Paul Fleming, said art and entertainment are worth more to our economy than banking but “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,” he added.
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.”