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The industry has a severe case of Brexit blues

LIVE touring group chairman, Craig Stanley, reflects on the practical ramifications of Brexit and the ongoing battle to remove restrictions on crossing borders

15 Mar 2022

Craig Stanley

A week is a long time in politics – a year is a lifetime. It has certainly felt like that in the past twelve months since the UK finally left the EU in January last year.

Throughout that time, I have chaired a group of committed industry figures that make up the LIVE Touring Group. We have been unravelling what Brexit really means for the concert touring industry, working with government departments to make clear the consequences of our new relationship with Europe.

Until now, the real implications have been masked by Covid-19 restrictions, and the full impact is only just beginning to be felt as we start touring once again.

So, what has happened? What have we learnt? And more importantly, what hurdles remain for both sides of the Channel as we adjust to the new relationship? As Europe re-opens after Covid-19, the post-Brexit news isn’t all bad but, then again, it’s not all good – and it could be much better.

The root of the issues can be traced back to the hastily negotiated Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) that, despite running to over 1,400 pages, barely mentions culture and entertainment.

It is not only British musicians, suppliers and crews that will lose out – those on the continent will suffer too

Lord Frost, the UK government’s lead negotiator, may have left, but the legacy of his oversight remains. Meeting other government officials reinforced how little they know about how our industry works and the scale of our economic contribution.

Happily, after a year of intense lobbying by LIVE and many other interest groups, the wheels of power have begun to turn, and the concerns of our sector are now firmly on the political radar.

The UK’s live music industry is larger than the fishing and steel industries combined and eclipses all other industries in successfully exporting ‘Brand Britain’ to the world. In the UK, the sector provides employment for well over 200,000 people, of which more than 33,000 are reliant on international touring for their livelihoods.

Brexit may be done; it now needs to be finessed so that it works for all. It is not only British musicians, suppliers and crews that will lose out – those on the continent will suffer too.

European promoters rely on British bands, equipment, and technical expertise to deliver shows that fill concert venues and sell out festivals from Sicily to Helsinki. European music fans love British music, and the feeling is entirely mutual. All we want is to be able to keep this international collaboration alive and let the music play.

Europeans have as much responsibility as their British colleagues to lobby their own governments to make things happen

Europeans have as much responsibility as their British colleagues to lobby their own governments to make things happen. When the UK left the EU, it lost its voice with European policymakers. European restrictions will only be lifted if European artists, businesses, and music fans make enough noise to get their politicians interested to bring about change.

A case in point is the successful campaign waged by the UK industry, working in conjunction with their Spanish counterparts, which resulted in the Spanish government’s U-turn on their tough immigration stance on British nationals working in entertainment.

Those restrictions were eventually lifted, paving the way for a litany of Spanish festivals and gigs to take place this summer featuring British artists. At the start of the year, the focus was firmly on the threat posed by post-Brexit immigration restrictions across the EU.

The campaign by Carry On Touring demonstrated the depth of feeling across the sector, attracting well over a quarter of a million signatures to its petition for Europe-wide visa-free work permits for touring professionals and artists. This ‘ask’ remains firmly on the table, but the current frosty relationship between Westminster and Strasbourg suggests it may be a long road to implementation.

Visa-free access was provided within the TCA for UK nationals going to the EU, and vice versa for Europeans coming to the UK. However, this visa-waiver came with a deadly catch. We are only allowed to spend 90 days in the EU within any 180-day period. Musicians and crews will no longer be able to move from one tour to the next if they exceed the 90-day limit, especially as the limit includes down days and holidays spent in the EU.

The movement of trucks remains the single biggest Brexit obstacle

The good news? Much uncertainty has now been removed surrounding the hurdles that touring musicians and their entourages feared. For those coming from the UK, the limitations are minimal for 21 of the 27 EU member states. Some niggling application procedures remain but these fall primarily into the ‘irritation’ category, rather than outright prohibition.

Work continues on persuading the remaining six member states to ease their regulations. Croatia is a particular sticking point, and LIVE is focused on lifting these blockages. While some form-filling has been introduced for the entry of musicians into the UK, the overall process is fairly straightforward for Europeans booked to play here.

The movement of trucks is a different matter. It remains the single biggest Brexit obstacle stemming from a little-known area of EU road transport regulations called cabotage. Renamed by the industry as the ‘three-stops-and-you’re-out’ rule, if strictly enforced, this regulation would see multi-stop European tours cease. In essence, British trucks would be limited to just three stops in Europe before they must return home.

For months, the concert industry has been warning the government of the dire consequences of inaction. Now, at the eleventh hour, the department for transport has tabled a partial fix that requires vehicles and drivers to operate under two different operator licences – essentially making them European when in Europe, and British when they are in the UK – with all the associated paperwork and additional costs.

While welcome as a short-term solution, secretary of state for transport Grant Shapps’s emergency rescue plan will take time to implement. Meanwhile, production managers are anxious to secure the trucks they need. I remain hopeful that the minister has heard and will act decisively to save summer touring.

I have yet to meet one person who can honestly say that Brexit was good for live music

However, smaller UK-based operators, unable to set up European yards and thereby denied access to essential EU markets, face a challenging future until a comprehensive solution is found. The quick-fix plan also fails to address ‘own account’ vehicles, which has serious implications for orchestras, many of whom have bookings with no means to transport their instruments.

Much work remains to get a permanent solution in place across our industry, and for this we will need European support. What we need is an EU-wide cultural exemption for all vehicles engaged in shows and events to keep the whole of this vibrant sector on the road independent of the scale or style of music.

Those who rely on splitter vans continue as they did before Brexit. However, whether the equipment in the back of the van requires a carnet remains open to interpretation of what constitutes portable personal equipment. The safe option is always to assume that a carnet is needed, though this comes at a cost.

Larger artists are used to carnets, and the extra paperwork is unwelcome but manageable. Buses fall outside the provisions of the TCA and continue to operate under Interbus regulations with the proviso that non-personal equipment, often carried in a rear trailer, will need a carnet.

Leaving the EU was supposed to remove Brussels’ bureaucracy and open up export opportunities, but a year into our new relationship with Europe, these have been exposed as empty promises for many working in live music, in all its forms. It is a sad irony that touring musicians, the very people who know most about working on international stages, have been hit the hardest – I have yet to meet one person who can honestly say that Brexit was good for live music.

‘Rock’ is in danger of losing its ‘Roll,’ and British music, the jewel in the UK’s cultural crown, will pay the price for political indifference

We knew from the start that progress to get things fixed might take time. That is why we proposed an essential suite of measures to mitigate some of the most impactful effects in the form of a Transitional Support Package. This would help the industry, particularly young and emerging artists, to deal with an uncertain and confusing post-Brexit landscape.

One of its most important functions is the establishment of a free information hub to provide accessible, accurate advice and clear guidance to touring professionals. This is the next major project for the industry, and we are relying on the recorded music sector to step up and support this essential initiative – they too depend on live shows to develop the next generation of musical talent.

Down at the UK’s department of digital, culture, media and sport, Nadine Dorries, the recently appointed culture czar, must also get involved. While many issues have been resolved, some major problems persist.

Is she really prepared to risk an industry that, prior to Covid, contributed £4.6billion (€5.5bn) annually to UK plc, created employment throughout the UK, and brought fun and created memories for millions? Can she really let such a vibrant sector wither under a barrage of red tape and needless regulation? Ditch the ideological purity, get with the band, and get this fixed. Otherwise, what’s the point in a minister of culture?

‘Rock’ is in danger of losing its ‘Roll,’ and British music, the jewel in the UK’s cultural crown, will pay the price for political indifference. We were promised “golden fields of opportunity” when all live music really got was a severe case of Brexit blues.


Craig Stanley is a promoter at Marshall Arts and chairs the LIVE Touring Group. He sits on the DCMS Cultural Touring Group and has given evidence to Select Committees in the House of Commons and House of Lords.