There have been a number of arguments going on over the last few weeks about the implications of Brexit and the UK touring into Europe and vice versa.
The result of this is that we are no further forward in gaining clarity of the current position and the paperwork required when the easing of COVID-19 allows gigs and tours to continue. Furthermore, the discussions which did take place were all behind closed doors, leading to much speculation.
The frustrating aspect is that there was, apparently, a proposal to allow visa-free tours by musicians, but this appeared to have been rejected.
Initially, it was claimed that Brussels threw out a deal, with a UK Government spokesman saying: “The EU’s offer fell short of the UK’s proposals and would not have enabled touring by musicians.”
One national newspaper claimed that a source had told them that the reason was a fear it involved travel rights which undermined the aims of Brexit.
Even Caroline Dinenage, the culture minister, had hinted that was the explanation, arguing Brussels had been “conflating general freedom of movement/work with specific provision for musicians/artists.”
Also, in an article on the NME website by Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary claimed “I’m afraid it was the EU letting down music on both sides of the Channel – not us.”
However, Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, then confirmed the UK had rebuffed Brussels, telling the Financial Times: “The British did not display any greater ambition. We had a number of initial proposals on this. Of course, you have to be two to reach an agreement.”
Unless discussions resume, then the current stalemate throws the decision onto EU member states, with the only hope being that EU capitals will waive the work permit requirement unilaterally.
France has done so, announcing at the weekend that no permits would be required for Britons “travelling for a sporting, cultural or scientific event” for up to 90 days.
The way forward
The Musicians’ Union has been lobbying for the creation of a ‘musicians’ passport’ that would last at least two years, cost nothing or very little, encompass all EU member states, prevent any requirement for carnets or other permits and cover road crew, technicians and other necessary staff to facilitate touring.
A change.org petition supporting the idea has reached almost 115,000 signatures.
However, at parliamentary questions, while Caroline Dinenage recently promised that the government was committed to providing ‘clarity’ for British musicians wishing to tour the EU and making the issue of negotiating working in individual member states “as easy and straightforward as possible”, we are still waiting on discussions which might facilitate this.
Christiaan Munro, director of the British merchandising company Sandbag, told The Guardian that HMRC discussions about the logistics of moving products from the UK to the EU when touring became possible again, revealed little, saying “Nobody can actually tell me how much it will cost to import goods into France, saying ‘you need to get in touch with the country you’re importing to’, which is rather frustrating.”
Prior to the Brexit trade agreement, artists visiting the non-EU countries Switzerland and Norway during the course of a European tour would pay sales tax in advance to cover the prospective sale of all merchandise carried and reclaim any differences after the fact.
Munro said: “Nobody can tell us how it is going to work. The freight companies are still feeling the waters. It does not help that the agreement was passed into law four days after being agreed so no one has any idea.”
It looks like this is a story which will run for some time to come……..