The New Europeans: Live music’s Brexit exiles
When the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced on Christmas Eve 2020 that the UK had signed a free trade agreement, the TCA (Trade and Cooperation Agreement), with the European Union, there was a collective sigh of relief across much of Britain. Four and a half tortuous years after the Brexit vote, the UK was finally out, and people on both sides of the new border could finally get on with their lives.
Well, sort of. That is, of course, unless you work in concert touring, in which case new requirements for visas (for people) and carnets (for goods) – as well as restrictions on cabotage (ie the right to transport goods and people within the EU and/or UK’s borders) for trucking companies – represented a less than ideal outcome for an industry built on decades of free movement across Europe.
In response, many UK-based firms, particularly hauliers affected by the new limits on cabotage in the European Union, are investing considerable sums to open new depots in mainland Europe or the Republic of Ireland.
In contrast to these ‘new Europeans’, many in the touring sector were “sleepwalking towards Brexit day,” according to Robert Hewett, founder and director of Stagetruck. “They were just completely indifferent to it,” he says, “thinking that we’d all just carry on as it was before. I would be saying to people, ‘Look, I don’t think you should assume that. This is how we make a living; it’s our livelihood…’”
However, with all touring still on hold because of the coronavirus, the impact of the TCA’s more restrictive provisions, particularly on cabotage, has yet to be felt fully, Hewett continues. “What happened with the pandemic when it hit is that it masked it [the Brexit question] for at least the next 12 months,” he says.
According to Stuart McPherson, managing director of KB Event, a ‘no-deal’ Brexit – repeatedly rejected as the worst possible outcome by most live music industry associations and professionals – would have been a better option for hauliers than the TCA signed by Johnson’s government and their counterparts in the EU.
“Bizarrely, for us that would have been a better outcome than the one we have,” he explains. “For rock’n’roll touring companies there was an exemption in place, from back in 1996, that allowed entertainment transport to move freely throughout the EU. That protocol was overwritten by the TCA, which came into law with the Brexit agreement and overrode the previous exemption we had under the ECMT [European Conference of Ministers of Transport] protocols. So for us, this is the worst possible outcome.”
A ‘no-deal’ Brexit would have been a better option for hauliers than the Trade and Cooperation Agreement
When the TCA was reached and the Brexit deal done, what we were left with was something that said we can no longer tour in Europe,” McPherson continues, “and so the only solution for that – as it sits right now and for the foreseeable future – is for us to open up a full European operating centre with a European operator’s licence, which gives us more freedom in terms of cabotage and interstate movements in Europe.”
As a result of that outcome, all the major UK-headquartered concert trucking and transport companies, which also include Stagetruck and Transam/EST (Edwin Shirley Trucking), are now based at least partially in the EU, or are considering a move, with offices in places like the Netherlands and Republic of Ireland serving as all-important hubs for continental operations.
Under the current rules, Transam/EST will have to make a choice: “Either to become Dutch or Irish, or a bit of both, or to stay in the UK – but I can’t see the latter happening,” says senior manager Ollie Kite. “We’re going to have to re-register all our trucks, or a lot of them, into the EU, and that costs money. So we want to be able to be ready to do that, but we’re delaying it as long as possible. Because until work starts to return, we’re a bit strapped for cash…”
McPherson estimates that the cost to KB Event to set up an office in Ireland – including the operations centre with parking for 60 trucks, an EU operator’s licence, and duplicate fleet insurance – is already up to £500,000 (€578,000), with European CPCs (certificates of professional competence) for KB’s drivers set to cost a further £100,000 (€116,000) – a considerable outlay for a sector that has had little revenue since March 2020.
Stagetruck, which already had an office near Veghel in the Netherlands, is similarly facing a bill of between £100,000 and £110,000 to send its drivers to the Irish republic to do an EU-certified driver CPC course, says Hewett.
“All the European countries, at this moment, are standing together and saying, ‘No, unless you come and take a driving test [in an EU member state] you cannot drive a European-registered truck,’” he comments. “That is the nightmare that we’re all facing at the moment.”
Kite says Transam/EST is also looking toward Ireland, to minimise the language barrier for the company’s UK drivers. “The nonsense of it is,” he adds, “is that they already know what they’re going to be taught, as the course and the exams are exactly the same as in England – just that you have to take them in Ireland or somewhere in the EU instead. Nothing’s actually changed.”
Currently, explains Kite, the UK allows EU drivers to drive British-registered trucks on an EU licence, “although they’re hinting that they won’t let that continue” should it not be reciprocated from the other side.
All the major UK-headquartered concert trucking and transport companies are now based at least partially in the EU, or are considering a move
Keep on truckin’
As Craig Stanley of Marshall Arts, who is the chair of the UK’s LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment) Touring group, told IQ earlier this year, the cabotage issue – the lack of an exemption for concert hauliers under the TCA – is by far the biggest problem facing hauliers who haven’t already made the jump across the English Channel or Irish Sea. “Unlimited movement by UK-based concert hauliers will cease,” he said. “The biggest impact of the cabotage regulations is that non-EU-based haulage companies will only be allowed to have a load going into the EU and then two further movements before having to turn back to their place of registration. So, as it stands, to undertake EU tours it will be necessary to have EU-registered hauliers.”
The Road Haulage Association (RHA), the UK trade association for haulage and logistics operators, has called on Boris Johnson to secure an exemption, or ‘easement,’ from the current rules for UK-based entertainment hauliers to enable them to continue touring Europe. “If the UK events haulage industry is to have any chance of survival it needs an EU-wide easement so that trucks moving touring equipment can continue to make multiple stops across Europe,” says RHA chief executive Richard Burnett.
Unfortunately, on the British side at least, there remain fundamental misunderstandings about the role of concert hauliers and their needs in the post-Brexit landscape, says Kite. “We’ve been lobbying for change, we’re talking to the Department for Transport, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but they don’t really understand. They think it’s just going from A to B, dropping off a kit and then picking it up again. We’re struggling with trying to get them to understand that under the TCA we simply can’t tour like we used to.
“We’re inching forward – whereas before, under other rules, cultural tours and events were exempt from the cabotage rule.”
“There is a lack of understanding in government about transport,” agrees Hewett, “even more than the lack of understanding about the music industry. Every headline you ever saw was about fishing, but if you compare what the music industry brings in – what it brings to every local economy when a big band arrives – it’s a massive injection of income into local areas, and they seem to have bypassed it completely. It’s amazing.”
“There is a lack of understanding in government about transport – even more than the lack of understanding about the music industry”
It’s not just hauliers who have been forced to set up costly EU offices to continue trading after Brexit. London-based World Touring Exhibitions, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has been forced to slim down its UK office and set up shop in Rotterdam – a reflection of visa considerations and the other expensive barriers against both UK–EU and inter-EU travel for a non-EU company, founder Corrado Canonici tells IQ.
“It’s a shame, but it is necessary, as we can’t really bring UK people [to Europe] at the touch of a button, like we could before,” he says. “For example, we are about to open an exhibition in Germany – I can’t get my crew there unless I get them all visas, which would have taken an enormous amount of time and money, which makes no sense when you only need them to work five days. What sense does it make to get them a 30-day visa?”
For exhibitions coming into the EU, “we have to do all kinds of paperwork – ATA carnets, rule-of-origin papers – in addition to visas for the crew,” Canonici continues, “so we just thought, ‘How about we continue to be part of [the EU]?’ Europe is 27 countries and the UK is one. So [by opening an EU office] we have 27 countries that we can serve and tour without any problems.”
From a freedom of movement perspective, the political climate in the UK would never have allowed for permit-free travel between the UK and Europe, suggests Andy Corrigan of Viva La Visa. “Anything regarding immigration would have needed a degree of reciprocity: that if we [the UK] were saying we are going to have visa- free travel, the EU would have said, ‘Well, we want it to the UK,’ and the UK – the Home Office and Boris Johnson – would have said, ‘No way.’ Anything regarding Brexit that would have led to increased immigration into the UK, they’d have said no, because of how that would play out in the Daily Mail: ‘That’s not what we voted for…’”
While Corrigan believes the problems surrounding other aspects of post-Brexit touring “are soluble, it’s going to take a bit of time to make everything run smoothly. And anecdotally, things are not terribly well organised at the moment. We had a sound company went out [to the EU] on a carnet last week. I had to get them the emergency car and the two-hour special service, and they got to Folkestone and the guy there refused to stamp it. I don’t know why – he just said he couldn’t do it and moved them on. So they got to France and, because it was Ascension Day, customs was closed. There was nobody there.
“It’s one thing saying you need a carnet to take your goods over. But the actual practicalities of it – the system and the infrastructure – are not all together yet. And I think you will get more random decisions being made by border people asking for the wrong things and discriminating and asking for stuff they shouldn’t, and the same coming into the UK. Hopefully, it will smooth itself out.”
World Touring Exhibitions’ new reality was illustrated recently as the company prepared to put the aforementioned exhibition into Cologne. Canonici recalls: “All of a sudden we found out that if we were using a British company, it would have been a problem. We were told, ‘You can’t do that without a big, big cost.’ So, we used a Dutch company instead and immediately the shipper told us, ‘Oh, that’s great.’ We literally just signed one piece of paper and that was it.”
“When the pressure is coming from the other side of the Channel, that’s when things will change”
‘Make it work’
Despite this exodus of profitable business out of the UK, McPherson is of the opinion that there is little appetite on the British side for renegotiating the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, even on a bilateral basis (between the UK and individual EU member countries). “At the moment, it’s being made very clear that there is going to be no reengagement or renegotiating on the TCA,” he says. “To read into that, the message is: this is what you’ve got, and you’ve got to find a way to make it work.”
While KB Event and companies like it have already spent hundreds of thousands of euros on doing just that, McPherson remains concerned about what he sees as a fundamental lack of haulage capacity for tours in the pipeline – particularly given the number of shows that have been postponed to 2022 and beyond because of Covid-19 restrictions.
“When we get to 2022 and there are not enough trucks in the EU to be able to cover the tours, you’re going to have European promoters saying they cannot deliver their tours as they have no way of moving them because 85% of trucks for touring come out of the UK.”
Hewett emphasises the importance of also keeping the pressure on the government in the UK, warning that the entertainment haulage sector – especially those smaller British outfits that couldn’t afford to become ‘new Europeans’ – is facing wipe-out under current cabotage regulations. “We really need a concerted effort now, with the press, the music industry and everyone to come on board and push this issue because it could decimate this industry,” he says.
For Corrigan, there’s “too much at stake, economically and artistically,” for the UK and EU not to get back around the negotiating table to resolve the outstanding issues facing performers, crew and hauliers. “It’s going to happen. In the past, things have been overcome,” he says. “We used to tour Europe with carnets at every border, which was a nightmare. But today’s major touring is a much more business-like activity than it was 30 years ago, and think how much it would upset the accountants if the lighting truck didn’t make it to a gig because it got stuck at the Belgian border for 12 hours…”
In a scenario like the one mentioned, where promoters cannot deliver shows for which fans have bought tickets (and in many cases held onto them for a year or longer), “that’s when the pressure is going to change,” says McPherson, “from the UK trucking company shouting about the fact we can’t do what we do for a living anymore, to promoters in the EU shouting at their country’s government, saying, ‘You guys need to do something here. We can’t move our tours. Our revenue streams have dried up for us, and for our nation.’
“At that point, when the pressure is coming from the other side of the Channel, that’s when things will change.”
Read this feature in its original format in the digital edition of IQ 100:
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Industry experts tackle post-Brexit misinformation
A group of live music industry professionals have launched an online information initiative aimed at offering post-Brexit advice and guidance to those working in the music and cultural sectors in the UK and the European Union.
The initiative, named UK, Europe, Arts Work, launched on Friday 31 January, as the UK finally made its exit from the European Union. Live music professionals have been vocal on the impact Brexit will have on the industry, with freedom of movement for both people and equipment one of the major points of contention, with some artists believed to be reluctant to confirm touring commitments post-2020 until clearer information is available.
Project leader Ian Smith, former national chair of the folk, roots and traditional music section of the Musicians’ Union and founder of Frusion and Fizzion music agencies, has established the resource alongside agent, tour manager and promoter Mark Ringwood, and carnet professional Roger Patterson, to limit disruption to the cultural sectors “via the dissemination of accurate fact-checked information from all sides”.
A regularly updated website will display information from UK and EU trade bodies, as well as from organisations within the cultural industries and export offices.
“I’ve seen much to worry about the entire industry in the last year to 18 months”
The key areas covered by the resource include work permits; visas; carnets for merchandise and equipment; international tax obligations across specific EU territories; and the import and export of instruments containing restricted materials.
“I’ve seen much to worry about the entire industry in the last year to 18 months,” comments Smith, who is based in the UK, with a strong presence in Austria. “Disproportionate misunderstanding surrounding work status is impacting current and future opportunities for work as booking cycles move forward.
“I’ve witnessed first-hand artists not being selected due to uncertainty and rumours circulating. This will only get worse with severe impacts for 2021, whatever is now agreed between the UK and EU,” continues Smith.
“Our aim is to provide information to all of these affected parties and promoters whose booking decisions are influenced by uncertainty about costs and access to each labour market.”
Read IQ’s round-up of the live industry’s road to Brexit here.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
UK culture minister: free movement “essential” for artists
The UK minister for sport, media and creative industries, Nigel Adams, has stated that the UK government will endeavour to support continued freedom of movement for touring musicians after the country leaves the European Union on 31 January.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday (21 January), Adams stressed the importance of touring – “the lifeblood of the industry” – and of freedom of movement for “musicians, equipment and merchandise”.
“Visa rules for artists performing in the EU will not change until the implementation period ends in December 2020. It’s absolutely essential that free movement for artists is protected post-2020,” said Adams.
Michael Dugher, former CEO of umbrella body UK Music, previously described the prospect of losing free movement as “a death knell for touring”, with many other industry figures raising concerns over the additional costs, delays and red tape artists would face in a post-Brexit world.
“It’s absolutely essential that free movement for artists is protected post-2020”
The minster also stated the government was committed to supporting the “fantastic UK music industry at home and abroad”, adding that a “comprehensive music strategy” needed to be implemented to ensure the industry “continues to be the envy of the world”.
The Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Music, Conor McGinn, noted that the UK music industry “punches well above its weight economically”, citing the £5.2 billion it generates each year, as well as having a “profound effect on health and wellbeing”.
McGinn admitted that “challenges still exist” with regards to business rates for music venues – which were addressed both in the ruling Conservative Party manifesto and in the Queen’s speech – asking when relief would come in.
The debate was praised by Tom Kiehl, deputy CEO of UK Music, who says: “I would like to thank all the MPs from across the political spectrum who made such brilliant and heartfelt contributions about the importance of the UK music industry to our economy and society.
“We look forward to working with [Adams] on the new music strategy and a host of other areas to continue to grow our industry.”
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
UK Music: touring may be “unviable” for many in no-deal Brexit
UK Music CEO Michael Dugher has highlighted “growing concerns” around the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit on the live music industry, in a recent letter to the home secretary.
Dugher states that the “viability of future tours” would be threatened if Britain were to exit the European Union without a deal.
The introduction of pre-paid income duty and value added tax on all merchandise brought on tour in the EU, as well as charges for moving equipment across borders, could result in an income loss of around 40% for touring acts, says Dugher.
The UK Music boss also calls for more clarification on what to expect in relation to freedom of movement post Brexit, stating the “worryingly inadequate” information currently available is preventing the industry from preparing for the possible changes ahead.
UK agents and promoters would find themselves under “considerable strain” if freedom of movement ended.
“Agents who have more EU acts on their books will see most impact,” writes Dugher, with some agents, promoters and festivals “who deal exclusively with EU artists” being “dragged into the immigration system for the first time.”
“[Immediate end to freedom of movement] would cause considerable disruption to the international live music touring industry”
The immediate end to freedom of movement “would cause considerable disruption to the international live music touring industry, in terms of UK artists travelling to the EU for concerts and vice versa,” says Dugher.
Dugher also states such a policy would “run contrary” to existing guidance which indicates there would be a three-month window in which EU citizens would be able to enter the UK to work.
“If an alternative ‘cliff edge’ policy is pursued,” continues Dugher, “it could result in retaliation from EU member states, requiring UK musicians to apply for expensive and bureaucratic visas and work permits in order to continue to tour the EU.”
UK Music and other industry associations, including the Musicians’ Union, have repeatedly pushed for a ‘touring passport’ which would allow musicians and their crews to move freely post-Brexit.
The UK’s Incorporated Society of Musicians recently called on the government to cover the additional costs incurred by musicians in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
ISM: Govt must cover musicians’ Brexit costs
The UK’s Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) is calling on the government to cover additional costs incurred by musicians travelling to EU countries for work, in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The ISM, a professional body for musicians, has calculated that additional costs of up to £1,000 per year will be levied against artists bringing instruments into the European Union.
Temporary international customs documents, or carnets, allowing musicians to move instruments and equipment outside the UK will set artists back £500 to £700. Currently, no extra cost is incurred when moving goods between countries.
If Britain leaves the EU, UK musicians will also have to purchase private medical insurance, costing £70 per year or up to £320 for those with pre-existing medical conditions.
Other costs include musical instrument certificates for instruments containing endangered species (such as ivory, rosewood or tortoiseshell), international driving permits and, potentially, visas.
“The majority of musicians do not have the capacity to absorb additional costs in the event of a no-deal Brexit”
According to the ISM, whose Impact of Brexit on Musicians report shows 95% of artists will be negatively impacted by Brexit, the “lack of transitional arrangements” in a no-deal scenario will result in “chaos” for musicians touring in the EU.
ISM president Dr Jeremy Huw Williams says “this uncertainty threatens the livelihoods of thousands of UK-based musicians who rely on touring in EU countries for work”.
Williams urges the government to “fully cover [extra] costs” in advance of the Brexit deadline date of 31 October. Failing this, the ISM president states the government should “provide a full compensation scheme to support musicians in the first three years following Brexit, at the very least.”
“The majority of musicians do not have the capacity to absorb additional costs in the event of a no-deal Brexit,” comments ISM chief executive Deborah Annetts. “These costs would be impossible for most freelance musicians, who earn on average around £20,000 per year.
“They would simply be unable to allocate up to 5% of their earnings to additional costs in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”
Through its Save Music campaign, the ISM aims to secure either freedom of movement for musicians or the introduction of a two-year working visa dedicated to musicians post Brexit.
Report: Brexit negatively impacts 95% of musicians
The UK’s Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) has published its fourth report into the effects of Brexit on music professionals, identifying future work in EU countries as a key issue for musicians post-Brexit.
Impact of Brexit on Musicians, builds on previous surveys to reveal the concerns of more than 2,000 musicians. Almost 50% of respondents identify an impact on their professional work since the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016. Of these musicians, 95% report the impact has been negative, up from 19% in 2016.
Over two thirds of respondents state the difficulty in securing future work in EU countries is the biggest post-Brexit concern, with one in ten musicians stating employers cited Brexit when cancelling or withdrawing work offers.
“I’ve had ensembles questioning me as to whether it’s feasible for them to employ me post-Brexit,” comments a survey respondent. “They’re turning to me for guidance and there is nothing I can offer them.”
Out of the musicians surveyed, the vast majority visit the EU for work at least once a year and 22% work in EU countries on a regular basis, clocking up more than eleven visits per year.
Freedom of movement for musicians post Brexit has been a key concern across the industry, with associations including industry umbrella organisation UK Music and the UK’s Musicians’ Union calling for the introduction of a dedicated ‘touring passport’ for musicians which would act as a waiver for visas and permits.
A proposal of setting a minimum £30,000 salary requirement for skilled workers post-Brexit sparked major concerns in December. UK music chief Michael Dugher pointed out that the migration rules would exclude many musicians, songwriters and producers, who earn an average annual salary of £20,504.
“Musicians’ livelihoods depend on the ability to travel easily and cheaply around multiple countries for work in a short period of time”
In a letter sent to Dugher, department for Exiting the European Union minister Robin Walker stated that artists would not face the effects of migration restrictions until the end of the implementation period in December 2020. Walker also offered assurances that the safeguarding of touring musicians would be a priority post-Brexit, but did not specify the ways in which the government would do so.
In case of the loss of freedom of movement, ISM’s Save Music campaign advocates the introduction of a two-year, multi-entry working visa tailored specifically for musicians. 64% of those surveyed stated that such a visa would alleviate concerns relating to EU-based work in the future.
The report also recommended more resources be made available for musicians seeking guidance on mobility issues, urging a government department to set up a hotline for this purpose.
“Impact of Brexit on Musicians demonstrates how much the music workforce depends on EU27/EEA countries for professional work, and reveals a profession who are deeply concerned about the future as the UK prepares to leave the EU,” says ISM chief executive Deborah Annetts.
“Musicians’ livelihoods depend on the ability to travel easily and cheaply around multiple countries for work in a short period of time.
“At a time of great uncertainty, musicians need to know their jobs in EU27/EEA will be secure once the UK leaves the EU. Therefore we call for the government to take action, using the recommendations outlined in this report, to protect musicians’ livelihood and the all-important music and wider creative industries.”
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free digest of essential live music industry news, via email.
UK govt pledges free movement for artists ahead of key Brexit vote
Ahead of a critical Commons vote tonight, industry umbrella organisation UK Music has received assurances from the Government regarding the impact on touring artists around post-Brexit immigration and customs restrictions.
The letter from the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) responds to concerns raised by UK Music chief executive Michael Dugher surrounding freedom of movement of people and goods and copyright law post-Brexit.
“Music is one of the UK’s greatest success stories, producing talent that is recognised the world over,” writes junior DExEU minister Robin Walker MP. “The UK’s decision to leave the EU will not change that and neither will it diminish our outstanding creativity.”
The loss of freedom of movement would present many problems for the music industry, as “costly bureaucracy will make touring simply unviable for very many artists,” says Dugher. UK Music has repeatedly called for the introduction of a ‘touring passport’, which would act as a waiver for visas and permits.
The DExEU letter states that artists will not face the effects of migration restrictions immediately, citing the implementation period from 30 March 2019 to 31 December 2020, during which “UK nationals, including musicians, will be able to travel and work in the EU as they do now.”
“Music is one of the UK’s greatest success stories, producing talent that is recognised the world over”
Beyond the transition period, the safeguarding of touring musicians will be a priority, particularly in striking long-term reciprocal mobility arrangements with the EU. “We will seek a specific co-operative accord with the EU which will make specific provision for mobility to allow UK musicians to perform in the EU, and EU musicians to perform in the UK,” the letter states.
UK Music’s Dugher voiced widespread concern that any tariffs, quotas or restrictions on transporting musical instruments and other equipment across borders would serve as a huge obstacle to touring artists. Responding, the letter addresses “the EU and the UK’s commitment to a free trade area”, as well as offering assurance that the Government “recognises that the temporary movement of goods and equipment is a priority for music cultural and creative sectors.”
Many music industry figures are deeply concerned by the potential threat Brexit poses to the UK music industry, which contributes £4.5 billion a year to the UK economy. The governmental response may serve to assuage some industry doubts, yet many questions – including what happens post-2020 if both parties fail to strike a deal on freedom of movement – remain unanswered ahead of the crunch Commons vote this evening.
Read the Government’s full response here.