The post-Brexit trials and tribulations of the touring musical troupe

Opinion piece (Encompass)
12 January 2021

The newly signed EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement (TCA) conditionally removes tariffs and quotas, but otherwise does little to minimise regulatory barriers to trade or facilitate trade in services. This means that selling goods and services between the EU and UK will become more expensive for businesses than it was before.

The extra cost is an inevitable consequence of the UK’s decision to extricate itself from the EU’s regulatory structures, and prioritise new trade agreements and the ending of free movement of people over continued economic integration. But the fact it was inevitable does not make the rupture any less painful for those industries affected.

To give an example, one group that received little public attention during the negotiations, and (potentially as a result) has received little accommodation in the TCA is that of touring bands and musicians.

The ending of free movement of people means there are new restrictions placed on Brits travelling to the EU (and vice versa). And while people travelling for businesses purposes can do so visa-free for 90 days in every 180, there are restrictions on the type of activities they are permitted to perform without obtaining a specific work visa.

The TCA provides an EU-wide list of permitted activities, subject to some member-state reservations (I’m looking at you, Austria). Generally speaking, short-term business visitors won’t require a work visa so long as they are not getting paid for the thing they are doing; meetings and research is fine, but direct sales to businesses or people is not.

However, the TCA does not include EU-wide provisions covering musicians, artists and performers. This means that any British musician, for example, hoping to tour the EU will need to check the visa-requirements of each member-state they plan to visit. These can vary wildly – a travelling musicians would not require a work permit to perform in France (limit: for 90 days in a 12 month period), but would require one in Spain.

Also, to compound matters further, simply travelling around the EU becomes more complicated. Under the cabotage rules of the TCA, British-owned transport companies can only make two drop offs in the EU before having to return to the UK. This massively constrains their ability to accommodate multi-country tours in Europe.

In practice, many of the impacts alluded to above will not be felt immediately – COVID-19 restrictions have curtailed travel between the EU and UK. But later in the year, when economies begin to open up again, many will find that the business activities they used to perform without thinking now have additional terms and conditions attached. Initially, there will of course be a lot of accidental illegality, as people break the new rules without thinking. It will then become a question of how strict the enforcement environment in different member-states and the UK is.

Fortunately, the TCA does include provisions allowing it to evolve over time, and it is not out of the question that the EU and UK could re-integrate economically in future. But evolution is not a given. And for now, businesses selling goods and services between the EU and UK will need to decide whether they can adjust to the new normal, or not.

Sam Lowe is a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.