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Post-Brexit touring restrictions remain restrictive, despite Spain visa U-turn

Negotiations have removed the need for additional visas, but unviable restrictions for British artists touring Europe are still in place.

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Richie Hawtin performing at Sónar 2012 in Barcelona.

Gian Pietro Dragoni on Unsplash.

I recently wrote for Now Then about new visa requirements in Spain and the impact they’ve had on UK touring bands, primarily those up-and-coming and mid-level artists who are looking to establish a foothold in Europe.

The post-Brexit deal didn't include any pan-European arrangements to ensure British artists could continue to tour without facing new visa, permit or carnet requirements. This means both artists and crew need to adhere to separate rules in each EU member state – and in some countries there was new bureaucracy to address.

Spain fell into that category. Artists and crew faced new, unviable costs when playing shows in the country – a situation that held no benefit for either Spanish festival organisers or UK artists.

Examples of bands who had pulled out of Spanish shows include Black Country, New Road and Squid. Both achieved critical acclaim in 2020 but have had to axe appearances in Spain, citing the visa requirement as a tipping point that made the gigs financially unviable.

Happily, the determination of UK and Spanish industry bodies in lobbying their respective governments has paid off, and the Spanish government have made a decision not to impose the new visa rules.

Welcoming the decision, LIVE and the Association of British Orchestras (the ABO) explained that, prior to the rule change, "visas have been a significant issue for Spain which, despite representing the fifth largest live music market in the world, posed the most costly and complicated visa application process across the bloc for artists looking to travel for short-term work.

"Artists and their promoters had to make applications for short term visas entirely in Spanish, and provide a host of tour details before even being granted a green light for the tour to go ahead – including accommodation and flight allocations – and give proof of applicant earnings up to nearly £1,000 before even having left the country. Costs were prohibitive, amounting to over £10,000 for an orchestra to visit Spain for up to five days."

Predictably the welcome news was trumpeted by most of the national press and Brexiteer Culture Minister Nadine Dorries, who called the decision "a success". Both demonstrated their collective failure to understand that the reversal removes one added bureaucratic hurdle from a litany of remaining restrictive rules and costs that will continue to damage the UK touring industry which had, prior to Brexit, been phenomenally successful.

UK Music chief Jamie Njoku-Goodwin emphasised that there’s much work still to be done.

"It is important to remember major issues still remain – particularly cabotage – which makes many tours impossible”, he said. “We will continue to press the case with [UK] government and with EU nations to remove all costly and bureaucratic restrictions that remain."

As with most legislation, the devil is in the detail. It's important to point out that there are new restrictions applicable in Spain that – rather conveniently – the press and UK government have glossed over in their insistence of clinging to the carcass of Brexit being a good thing.

These restrictions include a three-stop limit on UK touring vehicles before they have to return home and a hugely expensive goods passport, known as a carnet, which includes a bond for instruments and equipment.

While our government does its best to bury these self-imposed sanctions on UK artists in Europe, industry professionals and the music press battle on to ensure their collective plight remains in the public eye. Given the myopic political view of sections of our national press, this may be a tall order.

"Taken together with the visa issue still affecting other areas of the EU, the impacts of Brexit continue to cause logistical nightmares for Europe-wide tours,” say LIVE and the ABO.

“Live music touring is reliant on low friction barriers to entry and movement, allowing tours to move through countries seamlessly and quickly, and, as the second biggest exporter of music in the world, the sector in the UK is feeling the pinch."

The UK public can help by supporting the #LetTheMusicMove campaign, which calls on our government to engage with the EU and renegotiate terms and has gained support from Wolf Alice, IDLES and Radiohead.

Their petition backs a ‘musician's passport’ that lasts a minimum of two years, is free or at least cheap, covers all EU member states, eliminates carnets and other permits and – critically – covers road crew, technicians and other staff necessary for musicians to do their jobs.

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