LONDON – British musicians are demanding that the UK government faces the music after new post-Brexit regulations failed to consider their unique work lives and left them in the lurch.
Nearly 260,000 people — including U.K. artists Laura Marling, Louis Tomlinson and Biffy Clyro — have signed a petition for the British government to negotiate a review of the rules for musicians touring in the 27-nation European Union.
After Brexit U.K. citizens can no longer live and work freely in the bloc. Tourists don't need visas for stays of up to 90 days, and some short business trips are allowed under a new deal between Britain and the EU. But artists and musicians have not been included — incurring extra costs and hassle — and both sides disagree about who is to blame.
British musicians wanting to perform in Europe face a range of hurdles, including the extra cost of buying a customs document — known as a carnet — for the movement of equipment, and the possibility of additional work permits required in certain countries.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, Jamie Davies said London had sought reciprocal rights for musicians and support staff to tour without work permits, “but that offer was rejected by the EU.”
“We will continue to make the case for an arrangement that makes touring easier, and our door remains open to the EU if they change their mind,” Davies said.
Even though the pandemic is currently preventing tours, the ability to plan now is vital, said Paul Pacifico, CEO of the Association of Independent Music, which represents the U.K.’s independent music sector.
Red tape around sales tax alone will force smaller outfits to face a mountain of additional bureaucracy and expense, Pacifico said.
“If you’re a band on tour and you sell a CD in Germany, you’re going to have to make a sales tax return in Germany," he said. "Same for France, Italy, Croatia, Belgium, Luxembourg, etc.”
European bands hoping to play in the U.K. will also be affected.
Swedish punk band The Hives frontman Pelle Almqvist said his group, which first found international fame in Britain, will now have to think twice before playing live there.
“We’ll probably end up doing (fewer) shows in the UK because there’ll be less of an economic incentive,” Almqvist said Wednesday. “I don’t know, worst case scenario playing in the UK turns into hobby.”
British composer and House of Lords member Michael Berkeley, is also calling for a return to the negotiating table.
“I would like them to go back to the EU and hammer out a deal which would give a 90-day visa, or at least a very considerable visa, so that it became financially feasible to tour abroad,” Berkeley said.
He added that the expense of travelling with instruments also needs to be addressed.
“If you’re a cellist, you can’t do without your cello. And people have to buy a second seat on an airplane as well as a 400-pound ($550) carnet," Berkley said "It just becomes impossible. You know, there isn’t that much money in, for example, classical music to cover these extra costs.”
The petition — created by industry freelancer Tim Brennan — calls for London to negotiate a free cultural work permit with Brussels providing visa-free travel throughout the EU for touring professionals, bands, musicians, artists, as well as TV and sports celebrities. It also seeks carnet exception for touring equipment.
Jason Williamson of English duo Sleaford Mods is optimistic a solution can be found, but worries about the misery being caused in the meantime.
“People are panicking about it,” he said. “It couldn’t have come at a worse time, really.”
Sian Watson contributed to this story.