Theatre stars demand PM secure visa-free travel to EU for artists

Theatre stars led by Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stewart and Dame Julie Walters demand the Government renegotiate Brexit deal with EU to secure visa-free travel to Europe for British artists

  • Some of biggest names in UK theatre have blasted Government over Brexit deal 
  • Want Boris Johnson to re-negotiate with EU to secure visa-free travel for artists
  • Equity union said new travel rules are a ‘towering hurdle’ for the arts industry 

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

In a letter from the Equity union to the Prime Minister, the post-Brexit travel rules are described as a ‘towering hurdle’ for the performing arts industry. 

The union said many people had already lost work because it is now more difficult to travel to the EU and warned there will be ‘irreparable harm’ caused if the situation is not remedied swiftly.  

The union said in the letter: ‘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.’ 

More than 280,000 people have signed a petition calling on the UK Government and the EU to agree to reciprocal cultural work permit arrangements. 

Sir Ian McKellen is among a host of theatre stars calling for Boris Johnson to renegotiate his Brexit deal with the EU to secure visa-free travel to Europe for British artists

A letter from the Equity union to Mr Johnson states that a failure to remedy the situation now will cause ‘irreparable harm’ to the performing arts industry

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

It states: ‘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.’

The union also said that existing Government financial support or the sector has proven to be inadequate for many performing arts workers. 

The letter continues: ‘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.’

Alongside the list of signatories, members of the trade union for creative practitioners have also been emailing 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.


Sir Patrick Stewart and Dame Julie Walters have also signed the letter sent by Equity to the PM

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 was a ‘gaping hole where the promised free movement for musicians should be’. 

A UK Government spokesman 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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