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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