Brexit one year on: What’s the state of play?
It has been a little over a year since the post-Brexit trade deal came into effect, presenting the live music industry with a myriad of challenges to overcome.
Since then, 21 of the 27 EU member states have confirmed that British artists will not need a visa or work permit when entering those countries to undertake “short-term” tours, with each country having their own slightly different regulations to navigate.
But while the vast majority of Europe is ‘open for rock and roll business’, the live music industry is still battling to resolve issues around immigration, social security, carnets, cabotage and VAT.
With many creases still to be ironed out, IQ spoke with Craig Stanley, tour producer for Marshall Arts and chair of the LIVE touring group, and Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) CEO David Martin to identify the current state of play for the live music business.
A year on from the post-Brexit trade deal and little has been resolved in terms of cabotage restrictions that limit movements into and around the EU.
Before Brexit, concert hauliers were not restricted in the number of times they could unload and load productions on a European tour. Now, trucks over 3.5 tonnes are limited to just three stops before they have to leave the EU and return to the UK.
An estimated 75-80% of the European concert trucking business is based in the UK, meaning there are not enough trucks in Europe to make up the shortfall.
According to Stanley, the British Department for Transport (DfT) has offered to bring in dual registration as a solution to cabotage restrictions, meaning concert hauliers can be registered in both the UK and Europe.
However, to be registered in the EU, concert haulage companies will need a European yard which, as Stanley points out, is a huge expense. “They’d need a bonafide office that is tax registered and upholds all the regulations of that country,” he explains.
“We’ve made it clear on a ministerial level that [cabotage restrictions] is absolutely an existential threat to our industry”
According to Stanley, the DfT says that the earliest it can introduce dual registration is summer, causing great uncertainty for spring European tours.
“There are big tours starting in May that don’t know what they should be doing – it’s catastrophic,” says Stanley. “We’ve made it clear on a ministerial level that this is absolutely an existential threat to our industry, and they don’t seem to understand that there’s a tremendous urgency to get this fixed.”
While Stanley says the industry would broadly welcome dual registration as a “quick workaround solution”, he’s anxious to stress that the sector needs a comprehensive long-term solution in the form of a cultural exemption to allow free movement of trucks.
Unlike immigration issues, cabotage is an EU matter and cannot be determined by individual sovereign states. This means all 27 EU states would need to agree on any change to cabotage, including a cultural exemption. “It’s going to take some time,” adds Stanley.
As it stands, all but six EU member states have confirmed that British artists will not need visas or work permits when European touring resumes, though with some local conditions that will still need to be considered.
Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, the Republic of Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Portugal and Spain have all confirmed that British artists will not need a visa or work permit when entering those countries to undertake “short-term” tours.
Spain, the fifth-largest live music market in the world, is the most recent market to join the list after months of lobbying from live music trade bodies.
Previously, artists and their promoters had been required to file applications for short-term visas entirely in Spanish, provide a host of itinerary details before knowing whether the tour could go ahead and give proof of applicant earnings of up to nearly £1,000 before ever having left the country.
Touring artists and their production teams were also required to wait for over a month for a decision, making long term scheduling impossible.
“Being restricted to spend no more than 90 days in the EU in a period of 180 days is a limiting factor”
The seminal change followed months of dedicated work from live music industry trade body LIVE, the Association for British Orchestras (ABO) and their Spanish counterpart, APM Musicales, as well as Live Nation Spain.
“This was a fantastic example of putting pressure on the government within the UK whilst applying pressure in Spain and, as a result, we brought about change,” says Stanley.
LIVE is continuing to lobby the government to work with individual EU nations to tackle the problem of visas and permits, prioritising Greece, Croatia, Romania, Malta, Cyprus and Bulgaria.
While the ability to undertake “short-term tours” in 21 of the EU member states is a win for the industry, it’s still less than ideal for anyone who is consistently in Europe, warns Stanley.
“Being restricted to spend no more than 90 days in the EU in a period of 180 days is a limiting factor,” he explains. “It could have severe implications for, say, technicians and drivers who go from one tour to the next. Those kinds of professionals could easily spend more than three months in the EU – especially as that law includes holidays.
If they were going to exceed the limit, then “they would then have to get their employer to get them a work permit which is an expensive and involved process”.
Since leaving the EU, the European Health Insurance Card (EHICS, previously E111) will become null and void upon expiry for British citizens, meaning medical insurance is just another cost that touring artists will have to consider.
“Because we pay National Insurance here, most countries don’t deduct any social security payments in their country,” explains Stanley. “But, you have to obtain the right form from the UK tax authorities confirming you’ve paid social security in the UK. However, this hasn’t been road-tested. France, for example, is saying they’re going to increase their deduction of social security from an artist’s fee.
“Further clarification is still required on social security deductions in various territories, primarily France. It’s a question of whether laws are enforced and how they’re interpreted.”
“Further clarification is still required on social security deductions in various territories, primarily France”
The carnet system once again applies within Europe, as it did prior to the UK’s membership of the EU, and in line with other non-EU international tours.
It’s now necessary for tours to obtain ATA Carnets for all equipment travelling outside of the UK on a temporary basis. And while the carnet process is well established, its reintroduction is expected to add friction and cost to European touring, with its impact felt more intensely by grassroots and emerging artists.
“It’s a bureaucratic nightmare for smaller artists,” says Stanley. “It’s not only the lodging fee, it’s also what’s called the bond. You have to put up a bond which is the value of the goods being temporarily exported. If you don’t return them, you can actually risk forfeiting the bond. The bond is a way of making sure that what you temporarily export you are going to bring back.”
Martin from the FAC echoes Stanely’s point, adding that “for smaller artists, the cost of the carnet and the bond are prohibitive when it comes to touring”.
The FAC negotiated an agreement with London Chamber of Commerce, to offer its members a 40% discount on the purchase and bond for ATA Carnets. However, merchandise shipments and any other consumable items cannot be shipped on a carnet.
“This means merchandise will probably have to enter the EU on a permanent basis and, whilst they should be duty-free, a local company in the European destination country will have to take responsibility for the VAT due on the import,” John Corr at Sound Moves explained to IQ last year.
The other option, Stanley says, is to have merchandise made within the EU so the tax is already paid. “It’s straightforward once you’ve done it once or twice but it’s more friction,” he says.
“The most urgent and potentially the most impactful issues are clarity and engagement”
Clarity, guidance and support
“The most urgent and potentially the most impactful issues are clarity and engagement,” says Martin from the FAC. “One of my one of my members had a top 40 album this year and did not tour when they could have because of the complexity.”
“It is completely within the UK government’s gift to write guidance around what on earth this incredibly complex landscape means for professionals and operators in the sector, and they have not done that. It’s an unwillingness, it’s not an inability,” maintains Martin.
Since March 2021, LIVE, ISM, Musicians Union, UK Music, Music Managers Forum and Carry on Touring have been lobbying for a transitional support package to help the industry overcome the challenges presented by Brexit.
According to the coalition, the Live Music Transitional Support Package (TSP) would:
• Offer a quick solution for the government to mitigate the catastrophic disruption to the live music sector caused by Brexit.
• Establish a working partnership between the government and the live music sector until the planned UK Cultural Export Office is operational.
• Prioritise emerging talent and those likely to be hardest hit by the new regulations.
• Provide support for all those on stage and everyone involved behind the scenes.
Alongside government support, Stanley and Martin are also appealing to record labels to get behind the cause.
“There’s this invisible line between live and recorded but the success of an artist is generally predicated on them succeeding on both fronts – and British talent is at risk,” warns Martin.
Stanley echoes that sentiment: “The live side can’t understand why the recording and publishing industries – which are riding high on record-breaking profits – can’t put their hand in their pocket to support the pipeline of talent on which their future revenues depend.”
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UK govt savaged in parliament over Brexit ‘no deal’ for music
Industry professionals and members of parliament tore into the British government this afternoon (10 June) over failings in the Brexit deal that will lead to barriers to touring when live music restarts.
As detailed in the latest IQ Magazine, many UK firms have been forced to relocate to the continent to get around post-Brexit restrictions on the movement of goods, with experts warning that starting European tours in the UK is no longer possible under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) – while UK artists are concerned about the lack of provision for visa-free travel under the TCA, and that promised bilateral deals with individual EU nations have failed to appear.
Much of the blame for the lack of progress was directed towards Brexit negotiator-turned-government minister David Frost, who no-showed today’s event, a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee oral evidence session featuring contributions from Marshall Arts’ Craig Stanley, the head of the LIVE Touring group, and Noel McClean from performing arts union Bectu.
Stanley opened with a statement he had been asked to read by Elton John, which is reproduced in full here. In it, Sir Elton says the music industry is facing a “looming catastrophe” which the government “seems unable or unwilling to fix”. “The situation is already critical and touring musicians, crews and support staff are already losing their livelihood,” he adds.
“The government either doesn’t get it, or just doesn’t care”
McClean said Lord Frost’s no-show had to be viewed “in the round, with everything else that has been promised and has not happened over the course of the months since the TCA was agreed. Various ministers have promised that they’re working very hard, the prime minister has said that he’s working flat out to fix this issue… We’ve had these repeated promises that they are working on it and we will see the results very, very soon. [So Frost’s non-appearance] just adds to the reasonable feeling our members have that the government either doesn’t get it, or just doesn’t care.”
Committee chair Julian Knight observed that while the TCA avoided a no-deal UK exit from the EU, the industries represented in the session had effectively “enjoyed a no-deal Brexit – there’s been a deal, but the service sector, and the movement of people, has been left out of that deal.”
Stanley described how the issues presented by the TCA go far beyond the artist, affecting a supply chain of thousands of people. “So often the question is framed as ‘how will this affect musicians?’” he said, “but I’m equally concerned about all the behind-the-scenes stuff. For every musician on stage, there are ten, 20, 50, even 100 people who have got him or her there.”
On the artist side, “There is a whole brain drain of emerging talent going away from the industry which will not have the ability to grow and nurture,” he added. “People said that the Beatles had to go to Hamburg to become a band, and that’s still true today.”
“There’s no getting around it. No trucks means no tours”
Stanley said that despite the government’s insistence, there is “no evidence” it is actively pursuing bilateral agreements outside the TCA. “Two of my colleagues actually attended the Spanish consulate this morning to talk about the issues particularly with Spain. The gentleman they saw there acknowledged there had been some conversation, but not in any detail,” he explained. “So we’re very sad that after five months there’s been no progress made on a bilateral basis to do with work arrangements or cabotage.”
Asked by Alex Davies-Jones MP if there are any solutions to either of the issues that are entirely the UK government’s gift to give, Stanley said concert hauliers could be given an ‘easement’ on their current limit of three stops in Europe of the kind currently enjoyed by car transporters, who are able to deliver cars to multiple dealerships.“We believe that it’s entirely the secretary of state [Frost’s] gift to do that,” he explained. “And we cannot understand why he has not.”
“The solution to the problem is to go back and get a cultural exemption for the movement of trucks, otherwise touring will stop,” Stanley added. “I wouldn’t want Lord Frost to be remembered as the person who killed international touring for live music, but that is what he is facing at the moment. There’s no getting around it. No trucks means no tours.”
The full evidence session can be watched back on demand at Parliamentlive.tv.
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