U.K. Production Guild Chief Warns of Post-Brexit Shoot Delays as Stars Join Chorus for Visa-Free Work in Europe

UPDATE: The post-Brexit reality of a work visa regime to work in the European Union is now affecting the U.K. film and television production industry.

Several EU countries now require U.K. arts workers to apply for short-term work permits – not an easy process.

“When COVID-19 restrictions dissipate, the need for film and TV production to travel will become even more urgent,” Lyndsay Duthie, CEO, The Production Guild of Great Britain, told Variety. “Productions that are gearing up for spring filming are now working through the realities of the Brexit creative visa issues. A solution is needed to enable cast and crew involved in production to have the ability to move freely for a temporary period.”

“Currently, to get a work visa for Spain for example, with 10 week backlogs for HMRC [Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs] checks is taking up to three months to process, too long for a creative project,” Duthie explains. “A visa waiver scheme seems off the negotiating table, leaving a series of bilateral deals as a possible way forward, but with 27 EU countries, this will take considerable time.”

The U.K.’s National Theatre had planned to tour hit play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” around Europe. The tour, which was initially postponed due to COVID-19, has now been shelved.

“We hope to resume European touring, however we’re currently unable to make firm plans because of Brexit legislation: the potential additional costs for visas and current uncertainty around social security contributions mean regrettably it is currently not financially viable,” a National Theatre spokesperson told Variety. “We hope that in future we’ll return to tour in Europe, however that will not be possible until we have further clarity on these points.”

On Tuesday, a Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport select committee held a hearing to discuss the issue, during which several arts practitioners including Duthie, and members of the music and theater communities, deposed. The committee also heard from Caroline Dinenage, U.K. Minister of State for Digital and Culture.

The impact of Brexit on the £111 billion ($154 billion) was not adequately discussed during the negotiations late last year. Talks between the U.K. and EU over visa-free travel for arts workers failed. Dinenage told the committee that securing an EU-wide visa waiver for arts workers would be “very complicated.”

“The biggest issue here is the work permit issue and that is very much within the gift of the individual member states,” Dinenage added. “And that’s why we would be targeting our work there.”

Meanwhile, taking a cue from British musicians who demanded government action on touring the EU in January, on Tuesday it was the turn of actors to demand redressal.

A letter to U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, signed by actors Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Julie Walters, Miriam Margolyes, Ricky Tomlinson and Anne-Marie Duff, stated: “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 U.K.”

“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,” the letter added, saying that the “current Brexit deal is a towering hurdle” to working in Europe.

In response, a U.K. government spokesperson laid the mess at the EU’s door. “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 U.K.,” the spokesperson said. “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 U.K. creatives.”

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