The Brexit visa crisis, which is preventing British film and TV employees from working in the European Union without filling out reams of costly paperwork, is now starting to cause issues for spring shoots on the continent, according to The Production Guild of Great Britain.
Production Guild CEO Lyndsay Duthie told lawmakers of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMSC) on Tuesday that the absence of visa-free travel is causing “huge delays” for producers and is exacerbating the production nightmare caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We talk about Spain as an example, to get a visa organized for that is taking two-to-three months. So for us to be filming, even in the spring, we wouldn’t have time for that. It’s being felt now,” Duthie said. “We are, of course, trying to mitigate ways around it and look for that, but there are huge delays and HMRC are guiding us and saying it’s at least 10 weeks to get a social security forms processed. There’s a whole backlog of work happening.”
Her comments came as stars, including Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Julie Walters, and Sir Patrick Stewart, piled pressure on the government to put right what went wrong with the UK’s Brexit deal with the EU. The actors said urgent action is required before “irreparable harm” is done to UK creative sector workers.
“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,” they said in an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, organized by actors union Equity.
Signed by 100 Equity members, the letter added: “Some have already lost work in Europe or are being turned down for potential employment, because of the cost and bureaucracy that now comes with hiring British talent. Job advertisements and castings have even been asking for EU passport holders only to apply, which 29% of Equity members say they have seen.”
It concluded: “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. 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.”
As part of the DCMSC hearing on Tuesday, culture minister Caroline Dinenage was grilled on the visa issue. She pointed the finger of blame squarely at the EU, saying that Brussels rejected UK government proposals on visa-free travel as part of the Brexit negotiations. “I deeply regret that the EU rejected our proposals,” she told MPs, although she admitted that ministers from her department were “not in the negotiations over visas and work permits.”
DCMSC chair Julian Knight was flabbergasted that the £111 billion ($154B) creative industries’ needs had been overlooked as part of Brexit talks. He said that ministers from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport did not have enough clout within government to secure a deal for creative sector workers because it is seen as a “Cinderella Department.” He said: “You represent a quarter of the UK economy. Why is it that a quarter of the UK economy has had to endure a no-deal Brexit?”
Dinenage argued that culture ministers played a “really key role” in expressing the needs of the creative sector, but she confessed: “I would say that we are a net exporter of service industries, and I do not think the Brexit result is as favorable for service industries as it is for other business engagements.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport is currently chairing an industry working group as it seeks to find a resolution to the visa issue. The group, which contains representatives from the world of film, TV, music and stage, has met twice since January. The best way forward, Dinenage said, is striking bilateral agreements with individual EU member states.
“I think an EU-wide solution is going to be very complicated, because we have just spent many years negotiating the trade and co‑operation agreement, and there is not any appetite to reopen that,” she said. “The more likely success route is through negotiations with individual member states, not least because the biggest issue here is the work permit issue. That is very much within the gift of the individual member states, which is why we would be targeting our work there.”
Dinenage admitted, however, that the government is yet to open talks with individual countries. “To my knowledge, no, there are no current negotiations taking place,” she said, adding that the government wants to establish common ground through the working group before opening talks with other governments.
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