With Freedom of Movement in the EU now ended for UK citizens, Harold Heath looks at what this might mean for UK DJs and performers once covid has passed

Free movement of goods and people in the EU has now ended for the UK. This will affect many in the dance music industry in different ways – management, PRs, backline crew, drivers, promoters, festival staff, security, vinyl labels and many others. For this piece we’ll be looking at the possible impact of Brexit specifically on UK performers – bands, singers, DJs and musicians – many of whom before covid made most of their earnings touring in Europe. 

Under EU membership, members of any member state were free to travel and work anywhere in the EU. This meant that DJs and other live performers could travel around the EU on tour free from work permits, carnets, visas, border delays and administration. That the post-Brexit picture has changed is not in doubt but quite what life will be like post covid is still unclear. 

The extra costs will make many tours unviable, especially for young emerging musicians who are already struggling to keep their heads above water owing to the Covid ban on live music

Open letter from UK musicians to the Government

Lack of government clarity on post Brexit travels for the music industry has been of serious concern. Currently, travelling musicians or DJs looking for guidance from the UK government’s website on what they may need to do to meet entry requirements for the 27 EU states, they are simply directed to the embassy of each country. 

The picture is further complicated by the fact that no one is actually touring in Europe at the moment due to covid. Additionally, the fact that the 85-page agreement between the EU and the UK passed into law four days after being agreed hasn’t helped clarity either

One thing has become abundantly clear this year is that despite reassurances from the UK government during negotiations that musicians and DJs would continue to be able to work and travel freely in the EU, this is not currently the case. The Brexit agreement between the UK and Europe doesn’t include visa-free touring for musicians or performers. In fact, such reassurances were clearly at odds with the government’s hardline on immigration and their manifesto commitment to ‘regain control of our borders’. 

As has been reported recently, in the last days of the negotiations between the UK and the EU, the UK government rejected the offer of visa-free touring for UK musicians in the EU because they would have to offer reciprocal arrangements to the 27 nations of the EU which would undermine their commitment to ending free movement. 

Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Digital and Culture said that the current situation was “…incredibly disappointing news for the music industry sector, it is not the deal that we wanted but I’m afraid …the EU did not offer a deal that works for musicians …the EU, in fact, made a very broad offer which would not have been compatible with the government’s manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders.”

This ‘very broad offer’ is the same that performers from many countries including the USA and Saudi Arabia to give just two examples enjoy: visa-free travel in Europe for performers – and it’s an arrangement that the EU offers as standard in trade deals with non-EU countries. (this is all from that independent article above). The UK government appear so committed to complete purity of their end-to-freedom-of-movement ideology that they’re willing, in the short term at least, to instigate a change that will have a substantial negative effect on individuals and the greater music industry. They instead intend to pursue negotiations with the various nations of the EU individually. 

The reason this is so difficult for performers is that once outside the EU, the visa, work permit, carnet and entry rules differ for every single European country. This potentially means a substantial increase in administration and red tape to tour multiple countries, with a corresponding rise in the cost. 

Music industry reaction to the news that the government turned down the EU’s offer was unequivocally negative, with particular concern for up-and-coming and small-to-mid-level artists and DJs. The Musicians Union were “angry and alarmed to learn the news that the UK Government rejected an EU offer of visa-free touring by British musicians”, with General Secretary Horace Trubridge saying “that our own elected representatives chose to turn down such an offer is nigh-on unbelievable”.

The industry has also responded to the news with an open letter to the government, published in The Times newspaper, signed by big pop stars like Ed Sheeran and dance music artists Simian Mobile Disco, Ross From Friends, Jayda G and Bicep. The letter says: 

“…everyone on a European music tour will now need costly work permits and a mountain of paperwork for their equipment. The extra costs will make many tours unviable, especially for young emerging musicians who are already struggling to keep their heads above water owing to the Covid ban on live music.”

The campaign is urging the government to negotiate paperwork free travel in the EU for UK artists and their equipment and are asking for such arrangements to be reciprocal. 

In response to the news that the government turned down the EU’s offer of visa-free travel, the Chief Executive of the Incorporation Society of Musicians (ISM) Deborah Annetts said: “It is hugely disappointing to see that musicians and other creatives will not be covered by visa-free short term business trip provisions. After everything that the sector has been through over the past ten months, how has this happened? It is high-time that the value of music to our lives and our economy is recognised fully.”

This value is always worth noting in these discussions. The UK music industry, of which DJ culture and dance music is a substantial part, is huge. It was worth around £5.8 billion per year pre-covid but has taken a huge pandemic-hit with some financial commentators estimating a 50% shrinkage in the value of the UK music industry due to covid. 

There is a genuine fear that for many mid-level performers, the post-covid European touring landscape may prove too difficult to navigate, that the increased time and administration of travelling to several European countries on a single tour will simply make it uneconomical. 

Arranging visas and work permits can be a confusing, costly and time-consuming process, with different rules for every single EU country, each embassy having a different process, all of which takes time and therefore money to arrange. Then once actually travelling, border control is some countries may require to see proof of earnings, event contracts, proof you have enough money for your stay and so on. 

Aside from arranging visas and work permits, a big issue for musicians is their equipment – a techno act might have a few drum machines, groove boxes, a mixer, midi box, laptop and so on. Some countries – again the situation is currently unclear – will require each item to be listed and, potentially, to be viewed and confirmed by customs. Every single hold up on a tour has instant financial ramifications. It’s not just the potential for missing gigs, it’s little things like having to pay the driver for sitting in a car park for hours while all the gear is unloaded, checked and loaded again that will could add up substantially. This is particularly concerning for smaller to mid-level acts, many of whom were already running tours on a shoestring budget.

There’s also the issue of paying tax and national insurance when earning in the European Union. As EU members, UK workers were protected against paying tax twice, once in the UK and once in the EU. This is no longer the case and the situation again will vary by country. And again, the guidance from the UK government is to check with host nation – this from the UK government website: “You might need to tell HMRC you’ll be working in the EUCheck whether you’ll need to pay social security contributions in the country you’re working in.”  

At a time when musicians and DJs are struggling from nearly a year with no touring income, the news about the details of the Brexit deal has hit the music industry hard.

So although the picture is unclear, we know that frictionless travel in the EU is for the moment a thing of the past. We can’t be sure about exactly what things will be like for travelling DJs but, from the UK government website guidance, we definitely know the following: 

If you are travelling to play a gig in the EU, then from the 1st Jan: 

You will need a passport with at least six months on it. 

There is no longer the guarantee of free mobile phone roaming throughout the EU. 

If you’re taking your own vehicle, you will need an insurance green card and a GB sticker.

You are allowed to travel for up to 90 days in any 180 day period in the Schengen area but each member state will have its own rules on visas, work permits, proof of employment, carnets, tax, national insurance, how much money you’ll need to have on you and so on. The UK government website says “You may need a visa, work permit or other documentation if you’re planning to stay for longer than 90 days in a 180-day period, or if you’ll be …providing services in another country as a self-employed person” (our emphasis) and again, advises travelling workers to check with the embassy for each country. 

In the absence of clear guidance from the Government, The ISM have produced an interim guide to the entrance rules of each EU country, available on their website, providing as much detail as they’ve been able to collate. 

Is there any good news? Well yes. At a time when musicians and DJs are struggling from nearly a year with no touring income, the news about the details of the Brexit deal has hit the music industry hard. But there is a glimmer of hope: our nearest neighbour France has waived the work permit requirement unilaterally, demonstrating the spirit of international cooperation that is so essential to music culture, as well as to both our economies.

Quite what other European states will choose to do or not do remains to be seen. Equally, we as yet have no information on when the UK’s individual negotiations with member states regarding visa-free travel for performers might begin, or indeed end. With the current administration utterly committed to border control, seemingly at the expense of the economy, it’s difficult to be positive. And one can’t help thinking that entering into a set of complex and potentially lengthy negotiations with 27 separate countries, in order to replace something that worked perfectly well previously is a somewhat depressing place to be. Our governments’ complete commitment to ending free movement is a seemingly insurmountable barrier to agreeing on reciprocal visa-free travel in the EU for performers. Perhaps a government less obsessed with immigration might be better placed to negotiate a new working model.

We can take hope from France’s decision, and look to the future. This next few years will be years in which to rebuild dance music culture. For the immediate future though, the picture is both unclear and troubling. 

ISM – Information on short term work permit arrangements for performers.

UK Government Brexit Guidance.

Petition for Europe-wide Visa-free work permit for Touring professionals and Artists.

31st January, 2021

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