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Spain waives visas for UK touring artists

After months of lobbying from live music trade bodies, British artists will no longer need a visa when entering Spain to undertake a short-term tour.

Spain, the fifth-largest live music market in the world, has posed the most costly and complicated visa application process in the European Union for artists looking to travel for short-term work.

Until now, artists and their promoters have 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.

Today’s seminal change follows 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.

“We are delighted that our hard work has paid off and the Spanish government has agreed to lift the restrictive visa process for touring artists, ending the complicated and painful process of expensive visa applications,” says Craig Stanley, chair of the LIVE Touring group.

“[This is] still only one small part of a very large problem affecting our ability to tour in the round”

“A whole host of people came together both here and in Spain to fix this situation and this shows what we can achieve when we work together.

“However, that is still only one small part of a very large problem affecting our ability to tour in the round. We are calling on the [UK] government to follow our lead and urgently work to fix the rules with the remaining member states so that we can continue to tour across the entirety of the European Union,” he concludes.

Mark Pemberton, director of Association of British Orchestras, adds: “The ABO is delighted the Spanish government has introduced a visa waiver for live performance.

“We have already heard from member orchestras that had had to go through the painful and expensive process of securing visas for their musicians these past months, and this will be welcome news for those orchestras with impending tours. It means we can continue to bring the best of British music-making to Spain.”

“Spain couldn’t afford another day being left behind in European touring routes”

Marta Pallares, from Spain’s marquee festival, Primavera Sound, comments: “This is, definitely, the best early Christmas present we could have had, and it’s great that it arrived before the bands which are meant to tour in 2022 spent any more money and energy on this nonsense.

“Spain couldn’t afford another day being left behind in European touring routes, and definitely British bands didn’t deserve losing one of their biggest markets especially after the pandemic hit. This agreement, which involved a joint effort from several ministries, is benefitting even more–for once– small and medium-sized bands, that’s the beauty of it.”

While today’s news represents a positive step towards the return of international touring, artists still face restrictions on touring in Spain such as a three-stop limit to UK touring vehicles before they have to return to home and a hugely expensive goods passport (a “carnet”), including a bond for instruments and equipment.

As a result of Brexit and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, European touring has become more expensive and more complicated for touring artists.

LIVE is continuing to lobby the government to work with individual EU nations to tackle the problem of visas and permits, prioritising the seven member states with the most urgent issues, such as Croatia.

 


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UK acts cancel Spanish dates: “Brexit is the next major threat to live music”

ATC Live has warned that Brexit is “the next major threat to live music” after two of the agency’s British acts were forced to pull out of Spain dates due to Brexit-related visa issues.

Earlier this year, 19 out of 27 EU member states reached an agreement with the UK government to award free work visas for 90 days, so that artists and their crew can travel freely during that period.

No such agreement was reached with major touring markets such as Spain and Portugal, as well as Greece, Croatia, Romania, Malta, Cyprus and Bulgaria.

For that reason, ATC-repped acts Squid and Black Country, New Road were each forced to pull out of several Spain dates on their respective European tours due to bureaucratic and financial hurdles.

“Not being able to play territories that are essential for growth is devastating for acts on the up and means a loss of earnings for everyone”

Sarah Joy, ATC Live, agent for Squid, tells IQ they worked hard with dedicated partners in Spain to “make every effort for the band to perform”.

“Unfortunately there were two major hurdles. Firstly, the cost of the visas makes mid-level venue touring untenable with a tour party of this size. Each member and crew would need a working visa and the costs stack up high against budgets.

“Secondly, the increased red tape including passports being submitted to embassies and long wait times for appointments made these dates completely unviable in the timescale.

“We hope with time that this process will be slim-lined and the costs reaccessed. Not being able to play territories that are essential for growth and reaching fans is devastating for artists on the up and means a loss of earnings for everyone involved. Now we are able to operate in the post-pandemic landscape, Brexit is the next major threat to live music.”

“We hope with time that this process will be slim-lined and the costs reaccessed”

Clemence Renaut, ATC Live, agent for Black Country New Road, adds: “We got clear information about the Spanish visa process and costs only recently, and the Spanish dates being right in the middle of the tour, it became too risky to try to get the visas on time, and too expensive for the band.

“It is a real shame for the band, the fans, the promoters and venues, as they were their first headline shows in Spain following their first album release this year, before coming back for Primavera in 2022. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem feasible to reschedule these shows in the near future because of other commitments, and also because we always try to tour Spain as part of a tour to avoid fly-ins. We all hope for an agreement to be reached very soon!”

Squid would have played in Barcelona (28 October), Madrid (29 October) and Vigo (30 October), while Black Country New Road were due to perform in San Sebastian (29 October), Madrid (30 October) and Barcelona (2 and 3 November).

Barcelona festival Primavera, which has booked both bands for its 2022 event, says that the cost of such cancellations due to visa issues could be “the final blow” for the Spanish market, which is still largely closed due to Covid-19 restrictions.

“The lack of progress to solve this problem is leading us dangerously close to a point of no return”

“We are suffering the cancellation of tours that were already programmed and for which money had already been invested, whilst those tours which should now be closed for next year are still up in the air. In a very delicate climate due to the Covid crisis, with promoters who have been unable to programme for the last two years and bands unable to tour internationally for the same amount of time, these costs could the final blow for an industry on which technical teams, venues and festivals depend, as well as of course the artists from one of the countries with a huge presence on our stages.

“The lack of progress to solve this problem is leading us dangerously close to a point of no return. In the meantime, and respecting the “principle of reciprocity” which was promised by the EU, the Spanish artists and creators have indeed already been granted temporary UK visas for creative / artistic performances, free of charge. In short, if practically the whole European Union has been able to find a solution to this problem, we should be able to do the same in ours. And with the utmost urgency.”

The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) previously said it is “actively engaging with the remaining EU member states that do not allow visa- and permit-free touring” has made formal approaches to them “to align their arrangements with the UK’s generous rules, which allow touring performers and support staff to come to the UK for up to three months without a visa”.

“We recognise challenges remain around touring, and we are continuing to work closely with the industry,” says DCMS in a statement. “We want to ensure that when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, touring can resume and our world-leading creative and cultural artists can continue to travel widely, learning their craft, growing their audiences and showing the best of British creativity to the world.”

 


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Touring now possible in 19/27 EU countries: DCMS

All but eight EU member states have confirmed that British artists will not need visas or work permits when European touring resumes, the UK government announced today (4 August).

Following conversations between Britain and individual European Union countries, UK musicians and performers can enjoy visa-free short-term touring in 19 of the bloc’s 27 nations, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

British authorities said in January they were pursuing a bilateral solution after the UK and EU failed to reach an EU-wide agreement on the deadlock facing touring artists.

According to DCMS, the governments of Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, the Republic of Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden have all confirmed that British artists will not need a visa or work permit when entering those countries to undertake “short-term” tours.

“We are actively engaging with the remaining EU member states that do not allow visa- and permit-free touring”

A DCMS spokesperson tells IQ the definition of a short-term tour varies from country to country, but is up to a maximum of three months. Full information, they add, will be available on each EU member state’s UK embassy website.

Absent from the list are major touring markets such as Spain and Portugal, as well as Greece, Croatia, Romania, Malta, Cyprus and Bulgaria. The department says is “actively engaging with the remaining EU member states that do not allow visa- and permit-free touring” has made formal approaches to them “to align their arrangements with the UK’s generous rules, which allow touring performers and support staff to come to the UK for up to three months without a visa”.

“We recognise challenges remain around touring, and we are continuing to work closely with the industry,” says DCMS in a statement. “We want to ensure that when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, touring can resume and our world-leading creative and cultural artists can continue to travel widely, learning their craft, growing their audiences and showing the best of British creativity to the world.”

Today’s announcement follows a special parliamentary committee in June which saw lawmakers, industry professionals and stars such as Elton John slam the government over its failure to secure an exemption to post-Brexit freedom-of-movement rules for musicians.

Responding to the announcement from DCMS, a spokesperson for the #LetTheMusicMove campaign criticises the department’s “spin” and says the government must provide the music industry with a country-by-country breakdown of the exact requirements for touring artists.

“Despite the spin, this statement represents an admission of failure”

“We continue to cooperate in good faith with government and officials on the critical issue of EU touring. However, the latest announcement is nothing more than we already knew,” they say. “It remains that the UK’s music industry is in a far less advantageous position now than it was pre-January.

“Despite the spin, this statement represents an admission of failure: Failure to fulfil the promises made by government about securing our industry’s future during negotiations, failure to ‘fix’ the issue, as per the PM’s statement of March this year, and failure to provide certainty around touring in almost a third of EU countries, eight months after the music industry was dealt a no-deal scenario.

“We launched #LetTheMusicMove in June, which saw thousands of artists sign up to highlight the crisis that our industry finds itself in. Yet there has been no political representation in the meetings on the issues for months, let alone any signal that the government is ‘straining every sinew’ to help our £6bn sector.

“If there is a serious intention to fix the problems created by the government’s failure in negotiations, they must start by being honest with our sector and the public about the current status regarding EU touring. As a start, the government must publish full details on a country-by-country basis, outlining the exact requirements for touring performers and crew across all 27 member states.”

 


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We risk losing a generation of talent to Brexit chaos

Reproduced with permission, below is the full statement that Sir Elton John asked Craig Stanley to read in today’s DCMS Committee session.

Last month Rocket Entertainment CEO David Furnish, Marshall Arts’ Craig Stanley, Lord Strasburger and I met with Lord Frost to spell out the damage the trade agreement he negotiated with Europe is doing to the UK’s music industry and to try to find practical solutions and ways forward.

Put bluntly, we are currently in grave danger of losing a generation of talent due to the gaping holes in the government’s trade deal. New and emerging artists will be unable to tour Europe freely – an essential part of their education and development – due to the prohibitive costs of visas, carnets and permits.

However despite this looming catastrophe, the government seems unable or unwilling to fix this gaping hole in their trade deal and defaults to blaming the EU rather than finding ways out of this mess. The situation is already critical and touring musicians, crews and support staff are already losing their livelihood.

I want to be clear that the issues of visa-free and permit-free touring aren’t about the impact on me and artists who tour arenas and stadiums. We are lucky enough to have the support staff, finance and infrastructure to cut through the red tape that Lord Frost’s no-deal has created. This gravest of situations is about the damage to the next generation of musicians and emerging artists, whose careers will stall before they’ve even started due to this infuriating blame game.

If I had faced the financial and logistical obstacles facing young musicians now when I started out, I doubt I’d be where I am today

If I had faced the financial and logistical obstacles facing young musicians now when I started out, I’d never have had the opportunity to build the foundations of my career, and I very much doubt I’d be where I am today.

During our meeting Lord Frost said trying to solve this issue is a long process. Unfortunately our industry doesn’t have time. It is dying now. The government have broken the promise they outlined in 2020 to protect musicians and other creative industries from the impact of Brexit on tours to Europe. They now need to find solutions in both the short and long term to ensure the UK music industry continues to thrive.

Due to the halt that Covid-19 has imposed on touring, we have a window of opportunity.

I call on the government to sort this mess out, or we risk losing future generations of world-beating talent. This is about whether one of the UK’s most successful industries, worth £111bn a year, is allowed to prosper and contribute hugely to both our cultural and economic wealth – or crash and burn.

 


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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”

Teething problems
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:

 


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UK stars weigh in as visa petition reaches parliament

Colin Greenwood, bassist for Radiohead, has become the latest high-profile British artist to make the case for free movement for musicians in Europe, arguing in an article in the Guardian today that the UK government must act to eliminate red tape on touring.

The piece, titled ‘European touring made Radiohead the band we are. Brexit must not destroy it’, follows a similarly critical piece by Sir Elton John in the same paper on Sunday (7 February) – in which John contrasts his early career, playing Hamburg and Paris and touring Europe, with the “visas, work permits and equipment carnets” which could now be required by emerging British artists.

The Guardian op-eds – along with a new campaign, Carry on Touring, which also launches today – are the latest twist in the ongoing saga over musicians’ access to continental Europe post-Brexit, which has seen the UK and EU blame each other for the lack of a dedicated arrangement for touring artists following Britain’s exit from the bloc last month.

Spearheaded by Gill Morris of DevoConnect, with help from Ian Smith of Frusion and UKE Arts Work, Carry on Touring aims to force the British government back to the negotiating table to secure EU-wide free movement for touring artists and professionals. The campaign is supporting a petition for visa-free travel by freelancer Tim Brennan, which will be debated in parliament today after reaching nearly 300,000 signatures.

The parliamentary session takes place between 16.30 and 18.30 GMT and can be watched live at Parliamentlive.tv.

“Freelancers and touring professionals desperately need MPs and the government to fight our corner”

“Support for my petition has been phenomenal,” says Brennan, whose petition has won the support of a number of members of parliament, as well as Horace Trubridge of the Musicians’ Union, Parklife’s Sacha Lord and artists Fish (Marillion) and Eliza Carthy. “Freelancers and touring professionals like myself desperately need MPs and the government to fight our corner and renegotiate the current Brexit deal for this industry.

“This is an issue that has a huge impact on my life and my ability to earn and pay tax through my work in an industry that brings pleasure to millions of people.”

Following today’s parliamentary hearing, Carry on Touring will send a letter to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, urging him to seek an amendment or exemption for touring artists.

At press time, there are at least 14 European countries – including major markets like France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland – where free, short-term entry is guaranteed for touring musicians and their crew, according to a new guide published by umbrella body LIVE. Only Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria and Croatia definitively require a work or temporary stay visa for UK artists.

 


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UK pursuing bilateral solution to visa deadlock

The British government is negotiating on a bilateral basis with individual EU countries in a bid to break the deadlock over the issue of visas for touring artists, culture minister Diana Barran said today.

Taking questions in the House of Lords on 20 January, the Baroness Barran, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, told peers that while the UK’s previous offer to the EU to reopen negotiations on exempting musicians “still stands”, the government is also seeking “simplification and clarification on a bilateral basis with individual member states.”

Barran’s disclosure that Britain is shifting its attention to individual countries can be seen as a ‘plan B’ for performers in the absence of an EU-wide deal. As legal expert George Peretz explains, UK artists who want to tour the EU (excluding the Republic of Ireland, where the Common Travel Area already allows free travel) currently face “26 different sets of rules” – one for each member state – instead of one, as such an arrangement was not included in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Why that is is different depending on who you ask: European negotiators claim the UK turned down an offer from the EU of a 90-day visa-free period every 180 days, while British officials continue to insist EU inflexibility resulted in no deal for musicians.

UK artists currently face “26 different sets of rules”

In response to a question from the Lord McNally, in which McNally accused “Brexit zealots” of torpedoing any possibility of an agreement on freedom of movement “to protect the purity” of the UK’s hard break, Barran insisted British negotiators “tried very hard to stand up for Britain’s brilliant cultural and creative sectors, and reflect their requests to us about what they needed from the deal”.

The back and forth in the Lords came as industry leaders met with the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Oliver Dowden, to discuss the other obstacles thrown up by the deal, including cabotage, work permits, ATA carnets for touring orchestras, and VAT and administration charges on physical products shipped from the UK to the EU.

Elsewhere, British stars including Ed Sheeran, Sir Elton John, Sting, Liam Gallagher and the Who’s Brexit-voting Roger Daltrey put their names to a letter in today (20 January)’s Times to warn that the ongoing “negotiating failure” threatens the future of cultural exchange between the UK and the continent.

The letter, which was organised by the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats party, urges the UK government to “do what it said it would do” and negotiate visa-free travel to Europe for British artists and their equipment.

The stars also address the EU, asking that any deal be made reciprocal (for EU visitors to the UK).

“We are determined to give those talented people the clarity they need”

An Excel spreadsheet created by the European Commission at the tail end of 2020 attempts to outline the current situation for British musicians, analysing which EU countries require work permits for artists and which don’t. (However, “[t]he blanks and footnotes suggest that anyone really wanting certainty will need good legal advice from the country concerned,” writes Peretz.)

Wherever blame lies for the current impasse, UK ministers insist they will heed the growing calls to provide clarity for artists and the broader live music industry, with another culture minister – Caroline Dinenage, minister of state for digital and culture – reiterating in the Commons yesterday that the UK’s “door is open” for discussions on resolving the issue.

Echoing her sentiments today, Barran claimed that while UK negotiators “did everything in their power to avoid the current situation”, the government is now is now looking ahead in order to secure a “simple and straightforward” deal for live entertainers.

“We are incredibly disappointed that the EU neither proposed, nor accepted, a tailored deal for musicians,” she said, “and we are determined to give those talented people the clarity they need to survive.”

 


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Visas: Brexit war of words heats up

The European Union has hit back at claims by the British government it rejected the latter’s proposals for visa-free travel for touring artists, escalating the public war of words over the issue between the bloc and its recently departed former member state.

In response to a report in the Independent which claimed UK negotiators had knocked back an offer from the EU for visa-free touring, a UK government spokesperson told IQ earlier this week it was actually the EU which insisted on travel restrictions for musicians – saying Britain has supported, and will always support, “ambitious arrangements for performers and artists to be able to work and tour across Europe”.

Elaborating in an interview with the NME on Wednesday (13 January), UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden explained that the UK sought a “mutually beneficial agreement” that would have included musicians, artists, entertainers and crew in a class of “business visitors” exempt from needing work visas.

“But the EU turned it down, repeatedly,” said Dowden. “It did not propose and wouldn’t accept a tailored deal for musicians and artists. I’m afraid it was the EU letting down music on both sides of the Channel – not us.”

The EU, however, disputes Dowden’s version of events, claiming that the UK rejected special travel rights for artists and musicians prosed by EU negotiators.

“I very much regretted the fact that when it comes to mobility between the two sides that the British didn’t display any greater ambition”

Speaking to the FT, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said: “I very much regretted the fact that when it comes to mobility between the two sides that the British didn’t display any greater ambition. We had a number of initial proposals on this.”

It has been suggested that the EU’s reported offer of a 90-day visa-free period every 180 days – which would have effectively allowed a three-month European tour by British musicians – conflicted with the British government’s goal of ending freedom of movement between the UK and the EU and immigration reforms under home secretary Priti Patel.

Music industry associations have repeatedly called for clarity around European touring before live music restarts following a successful continent-wide vaccine programme, with umbrella body LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment) urging both sides to “work quickly to ensure that once Covid restrictions are lifted, UK artists are able to work across the EU with the same freedom that has been secured for people doing other business activity”.

British prime minister Boris Johnson has confirmed he will meet with MPs to discuss a way forward for the sector. “I know that our friends in the EU will be wanting to go further to improve things, for not just musicians, but business travellers of all kinds,” he said in the House of Commons on Wednesday. “There is a mutual benefit.”

Responding to a petition calling for a visa-free zone for touring artists, the UK government reiterated that “there is scope to return to this issue in the future should the EU change its mind”.

 


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British govt hits back at “misleading” EU visa report

The British government has denied it rejected an offer from the EU to exempt performers from needing a visa for European tours, describing an article claiming as such in the Independent as “misleading speculation”.

The Independent piece, which was published yesterday (10 January), quotes an anonymous EU source who says the bloc’s officials offered the UK a 90-day visa-free period for performers – an offer they allege was knocked back by UK negotiators.

“It is usually in our agreements with third countries that [work] visas are not required for musicians,” the source, who is described as being “close” to the Brexit negotiations, says. “We tried to include it, but the UK said no.”

Again citing EU sources, the paper claims the UK did ask for a similar 30-day exemption for performers; it is understood this proposal would have been a broader 30-day exemption covering all “business travellers”.

The Independent story was met with anger in the UK live music community, which has been pushing for visa-free travel for touring artists since Britain voted to leave the EU in June 2016.

“Last February, the home secretary stood up in the House of Commons and claimed that the situation for British musicians touring Europe would be completely unchanged, and that touring routes would operate as they do now,” says Annabella Coldrick, CEO of the Music Managers Forum. “A year on and such assurances appear to be misplaced, and – if recent newspaper reports are true – as a result of intransigence on the part of the UK government.

“We need urgent clarity from ministers as to what is going on and an immediate commitment to resolve the situation”

“This is utter insanity. Music is at the heart of Britain’s national culture, and a sector where we are genuinely world beating. For the sake of our artists, our musicians and the tens of thousands of people who work in live music, we need urgent clarity from ministers as to what is going on and an immediate commitment to resolve the situation to avoid a serious impact on our ability to tour the EU post-Covid.”

Horace Trubridge, general secretary of the Musicians’ Union, comments: “With the British music business having been devastated by Covid-19, and with no end in sight to the black hole of cancelled concerts, tours, festivals and regular gigs that is the very bedrock of our world-class industry, the news, if true, that our own elected representatives chose to turn down such an offer is nigh-on unbelievable.”

“Negotiators on both sides should continue to acknowledge the importance of cultural life and its huge social and economic value by finding an acceptable solution,” he adds.

Responding to the Independent article, a government spokesperson tells IQ: “It is not true we turned down a bespoke arrangement from the EU to allow musicians to work and perform in member states.The UK government has and always will support ambitious arrangements for performers and artists to be able to work and tour across Europe.

“As suggested by the creative arts sector, the UK proposed to capture the work done by musicians, artists and entertainers, and their accompanying staff, through the list of permitted activities for short-term business visitors. This would have allowed musicians and support staff to travel and perform in the UK and the EU more easily, without needing work permits.

“Unfortunately the EU repeatedly refused the proposals we made on behalf of the UK’s creative arts sector. We are clear that our door remains open should the EU change its mind. We will endeavour to make it as straightforward as possible for UK artists to travel and work in the EU.”

 


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The Brexit deal: What we know so far

The live music industry has been left with many unanswered questions by the post-Brexit trade deal, which was agreed upon by the UK and the EU on Christmas Eve (24 December).

The deal, which was signed into law yesterday, takes effect at 11 pm GMT today (31 December) – four-and-a-half years after the UK voted to leave the EU in a referendum and almost a year after the UK officially left the EU.

While much of the impact on touring musicians and productions is still unclear, IQ spoke with specialists across concert hauliers, freight and visas, to identify the current state of play for the live music business.

Concert Hauliers
According to Richard Burnett, CEO, Road Haulage Association, the biggest issue the new Free Trade Agreement presents to concert hauliers is restricted access to the market. This is due to reduced cabotage – a restriction of movements within a country.

Before Brexit, concert hauliers were not restricted in the number of times they could unload and load productions on a European tour. From tomorrow, trucks over 3.5 tonnes are limited to just three internal movements.

“So, a haulier could drop off a load in Paris, pick up a load in Paris, and then take it to Leon. And then the haulier would have to come home,” Burnett explains. The cabotage rules are also reciprocal; European trucks touring the UK would have equally limited movements.

From tomorrow, trucks over 3.5 tonnes are limited to just three internal movements

An estimated 85% of the European concert trucking business is based from the UK. Burnett says that currently, the only way those hauliers can continue to provide the same service they have for decades is by setting up a European operation which “costs a lot of money… hauliers have already had the worst year in their history due to Covid and are struggling enormously as it is.”

Seeking an exemption from the current rules, the Road Haulage Association and umbrella trade group LIVE is lobbying the UK Government to intervene and prevent large-scale European touring out of the UK from effectively being unable to resume in 2021.

ATA carnets
The carnet system will once again apply within Europe, as it did prior to the UK’s membership of the EU, and in line with other non-EU international tours.

It will now be 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.

“Merchandise shipments and any other consumable items cannot be shipped on a carnet so they 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,” says John Corr at Sound Moves.

While the carnet process is well established, its reintroduction is expected to add friction and cost to European touring

In terms of logistics, Corr points out that the new deal will require all trucks of 7.5 tonnes and above to have submitted customs clearance details and obtained a Kent Access Permit to be allowed to enter the county, to then make use of one of the document processing facilities and be allowed to board and cross.

His colleague, Martin Corr, stresses the inevitable delays tours will suffer while everyone gets used to the new customs procedures and processes.

“In the long term, promoters, managers and productions managers will have to budget for extra costs in relation to raising and bonding carnets. At the same time, itineraries will need to be carefully scrutinised to allow for the extra time and potential delays whilst carnets and other documents – including those for the truck and the drivers – are presented, approved, and customs and immigration release obtained,” he says.

Visas
For outbound immigration (UK to EU), visa requirements for touring musicians and crew will, in the future, be up to each individual country and enquiries are underway regarding immigration regulations applicable to each individual member state for outbound mobility from the UK.

A recent blog post by immigration specialists Viva La Visa states that, “The hoped-for provision for a dedicated clear permit free route for UK performers and their crews to operate in the EU was not there”. Industry associations are subsequently pressing for urgent clarification.

For inbound immigration, from tomorrow EU musicians (and entourages) will be coming into the UK through any of the existing three routes that apply to non-visa nationals: Certificates of Sponsorship (Tier 5), Permitted Paid Engagements (PPE) and Permit Free Festivals.

Various petitions have been launched in relation to musicians working in the EU post-Brexit including ‘Seek Europe-wide Visa-free work permit for Touring professionals and Artists‘ which will be debated in Parliament after surpassing 100,000 signatures, and the Musicians’ Union’s ‘Musicians’ Passport’ campaign.

IQ will be updating readers as further details of the new Brexit deal are clarified…

 


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