EDINBURGH Festival officials have met with UK ministers in a bid to avoid the visa crisis experienced by artists at last year’s festival.

A delegation from the festivals has this week met with Caroline Nokes, the Minister of State for Immigration, in a bid to ease the apparent clampdown on visiting artists to the UK.

Unveiling this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival programme, artistic director Nick Barley said it was too early to tell if anyone invited to the festival had their visas refused for this year’s festival, with applications ongoing in a year which marks its most “international” festival to date.

He also said he feared that after Brexit, if it happens, visas for writers from mainland Europe could also be an issue unless the government changes its attitude to visiting artists.

Last year, more than a dozen writers invited to the August festival, from the Middle East and Africa, experienced problems obtaining a visa to enter the UK for the festival.

This week Julia Armour, director of Festivals Edinburgh and Sorcha Carey, director of the Edinburgh Art Festival, met with Ms Nokes in London to press the case for a less obstructive visa process for short-term cultural visitors.

Mr Barley, unveiling a book festival programme replete with big literary names including award-winning Indian author and activist Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, Cressida Cowell, Tracy Chevalier, Ann Cleeves, the newly appointed Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, and Thomas Keneally, said that more visa restrictions, or obstructions, would damage UK culture beyond the Edinburgh festivals.

He said: “There is positive dialogue going on with the UK government, but at this stage we are not able to say whether positive progress has been made - we will not say that until writers and authors and musicians are getting their visas.”

Mr Barley added: “The important point is that in the end, we were able to sort out visas that had been rejected - once, twice or in one case three times - but the amount of highly paid support we needed, the amount of tax payers money, frankly, that was lavished on the help we needed, was completely out of scale with what should be a simple process of allowing and enabling cultural dialogue.

“Our point is that this is not simply about the Edinburgh festivals - this is about Britain, culture as a whole: at the moment, the problems that we have had are with authors living outside Europe.

“After Brexit, our major concern is that this will affect authors based within Europe, and therefore there is an urgent need to sort this out not just in order that we get authors from the Middle East, Africa, Palestine and so on, but also so that we can continue to hear voices from France, Germany, Spain, Italy.”

The book festival this year is inviting authors from 65 different countries, but unless the problems with visas can be sorted, the book festival will have “significantly fewer” international writers, and “we will be a significantly less influential festival on the world stage”, Mr Barley added.

The festival, which runs from 10 to 26 August, this year has the theme of ‘We Need New Stories’.

It will once again have stages in George Street, and this year its main tent will be sponsored by US newspaper, the New York Times.

Arundhati Roy will make her first appearance in Edinburgh in conversation with the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Keneally and Markus Zusak , the Australian writer, will also make their debuts, and other writers and artists will include Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler, James Meek and Deborah Levy.

The composer Sir James MacMillan will launch his memoir and Branko Milanovic, the economist, will be interviewed by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The actor and comedian Eddie Izzard will talk about his audio recording of Dickens’ Great Expectations and other writers will include Kate Atkinson, Harry Hill, Clare Balding, Tim Winton, David Nicholls, Benjamin Myers, Naomi Wolf, Joanne Harris, and Mark Haddon.

Writer Roddy Doyle will be in conversation with Blindboy, one half of the Irish comedy hip-hop duo Rubberbandits.

The former BBC China Editor Carrie Gracie will launches her new book Equal, and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson will be in conversation with Olympian rower Katherine Grainger, and other guests will included Channel 4’s Cathy Newman, Labour MP Rachel Reeves and broadcaster Mariella Frostrup.

A key voice in the US movement Black Lives Matter, DeRay Mckesson, will make his first appearance in Edinburgh as one of the 2019 Guest Selectors, while Val McDermid tackles Home/Less in her Guest Selector strand, speaking to Ali Smith, Karine Polwart and Palestinian author Nayrouz Qarmout about individuals and families who've faced the decision to leave their homeland.

The festival’s partnership with the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh returns for a third year with one-off interpretations of three "new cult classics": Miriam Toews’ Women Talking, Charlotte Higgins’ Under Another Sky and David Keenan’s This is Memorial Device.