UK Music deputy chief executive Tom Kiehl is the music industry umbrella group’s Brexit specialist. Here he provides his perspective of the challenges around post-Brexit touring arrangements, having recently returned from France where he discussed the issues with officials.

In the centre of the French port of Calais there stands a statute of President Charles de Gaulle and his wife Yvonne. For it was in Calais that the two were married. The statue is a somewhat ominous sign for touring UK musicians and crew at what is now for them the first point of entry into the EU market. It was President de Gaulle after all who was the leading international statesman who blocked the UK’s membership of the Common Market in the 1960s, perhaps instilling within the British psyche the sense that they were never truly part of the European project in the first place.

Thankfully, local municipal officials in Calais are taking a more constructive approach to Franco-British cultural relations and invited Dave Webster from the Musicians’ Union and me to visit them in early November to discuss post-Brexit arrangements for touring.

At the beginning of the year, the failure of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement to deliver a deal for international touring was a huge blow for UK artists. Musicians and crew now have to navigate 27 different rules, requirements and potential costs in order to tour across the EU.

Many countries do offer some form of short-term visa or permit-free touring but there are huge variations in the duration allowed from country to country, as well as additional admin in some cases. France, for instance, does not require work permits for cultural events and visas are not needed for short stays. Yet if you are performing as a UK musician in France there may be a registration process that requires proof of accommodation, booked paid engagements, return tickets and other documentary evidence to support working in the country.

Furthermore, musicians may now require an ATA Carnet to transport instruments and equipment to enter countries like France, though a musician accompanying a portable instrument should mean its exempt. Stamps from “designated ports” such as Calais may also be required for CITES certificates, due to the materials involved in the manufacture of certain instruments. There is also a discrepancy in the value of merchandise that musicians can carry in their baggage without charge between the UK and France.

A further challenge for post-Brexit touring is that because of the pandemic, and lack of international touring, few UK musicians will have been through the EU system over the past year. Customs officials in Calais have been focusing on wider freight and carnet issues and touring has not been properly stress tested yet. The clear message from officials in Calais that we met with is that if a musician has paperwork that needs to be stamped, be it an ATA Carnet or CITES MIC, they should take the Freight Channel when arriving in France. Exiting via the Tourist Channel would mean the relevant officials not being present to activate these documents and could lead to big problems further down the line.

President de Gaulle once said “politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians” and when considering the constructive relationship that our trip to Calais has forged he may have a point. Given the complexities of the post-Brexit world we now operate in can we do without our politicians to fix this though? The answer is an emphatic “non”.

This article was published in the winter 20/21 edition of Access All Areas. Read it here, and/or subscribe for free here.