Brexit: A ‘Massive Blow Financially, Mentally & Creatively’

In the beginning the questions was, is Brexit going to be a touring castastrophe or just the next millennium bug. In 2023, an answer emerges.

Brexit is “a mess,” according to Ian Smith, who spends his free time helping creatives from all over Europe to enter the UK hassle free on work engagements. The latest example that made the news is German rock trio Trigger Cut, who were refused entry into the UK in Calais, France, where they had intended to cross the Channel and play a seven-date tour across England, with one Scottish show on their itinerary – all organised by the three band members themselves.

The band’s guitarist Ralph Shaarschmidt told Pollstar, “We are a very small independent band from Germany – totally DIY, no agency, no manager. Our stuff is only available on Trigger Cut’s Bandcamp.” Organizing a UK is a massive lift for a band of Trigger Cut’s size, but also a dream-come-true for any European rock band. Schaarschmidt and his bandmates spared neither cost nor effort to put the tour together, and delved deep into the bureaucratic swamp of Brexit to make sure they came prepared. So, when they got turned down at the last hurdle, the UK coast almost visible across the Channel, it came as a real shock.

See: Analysis Finds 45% Drop In British Artist Bookings Post-Brexit

“We had planned this UK tour for months. We knew, because of Brexit it wouldn’t be easy to cross the UK border but we thought we had all the documents together. The easiest and cheapest way for us seemed to be the club promoters’ invitation documents. This means we had seven invitations with us. But the Border Police insisted on a certificate of sponsorship,” Schaarschmidt explained.

And he added, “Altogether we lost a lot of money: renting a van, the carnet, fuel costs, tolls, small hotels booked for every show, ferry ticket, loss of earnings, and so on. A big bummer.”

Klaus Vedfelt
The UK government is under heavy pressure from artists and industry professional to address the existing obstacles.

According to Schaarschmidt, it’s near-impossible for a small band like Trigger Cut to organize a UK tour. “And the emotional and psychological damage can no longer be compensated. In 1.5 hours, the border police destroyed our long-planned tour.” It was only after this ordeal that the band found out about Ian Smith. Since Brexit came into effect, he’s helped hundreds of acts to get their documentation for entry into the UK right.

As Smith explained, “There are two main rules routes into the UK, you can either go in totally free of charge, don’t pay anybody anything, on a letter of invitation. And as long as you have all the documentation to show that you can support yourself, that you’re an artist, etc. – if asked at the border – and fulfil the permitted paid engagement criteria then you can come in for free. One of the criteria is that you’re coming to work in your main profession. It’s easy to do, once you know how to do it, but it’s not easy to find that information.”

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The other way is by certificate of sponsorship from the employer in the UK. The reason Smith is able to help so many creatives out is that his business is a licenced official UK government sponsor ( UKVI ) for certificates of sponsorship for legal work in the UK for creatives and creative staff. This is what the border police wanted from the members of Trigger Cut. It remained unclear at press time, why the band was refused on the letters of invitation.

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Steve Barney lost his long-time engagement as Anastacia’s drummer over Brexit rules. (Picture taken from his Twitter account)

That indie bands would suffer the most under the new bureaucracy and costs has always been one of the industry’s greatest concerns in the lead-up to Brexit. But as the case of Steve Barney shows, it also affects the biggest and most experienced artists in the game. Barney has worked in this business as a drummer for 25 years, touring and/or recording with Annie Lennox, Anastacia, Mike + The Mechanics, Jeff Beck, Eagle-Eye Cherry, Sugababes, and more. His first tour post-COVID was with Gianna Nannini, taking him through Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco, and, of course, the UK. During the latter part of the tour, Barney was asked by Anastacia’s management, if he would be the drummer on her three-month long European tour – an opportunity he gladly accepted, having been her touring drummer for over twelve years.

It was only when preparing for the road that the subject of a 90/180-day rule came up. It restricts the freedom of movement of British nationals into the EU and vis a versa for EU nationals by limiting the time they can spend in the 27 countries encompassed in the so-called Schengen area to 90 days out of every 180 days. Barney had already used up 78 days on the Gianna Nannini tour, and “despite the best efforts of the production manager, Anastacia’s manager, and myself, to obtain an extended Schengen visa, we were unable to do so because it turned out that such thing does not exist!”, he writes in an open letter published on his socials.

Once management concluded there were no legal means by which Barney could spend another three months I the Schengen zone on Anastacia’s tour, he lost his job of twelve years. “I am absolutely devastated, frustrated and angry. The loss of a place in this band is a massive blow to me, financially, mentally, and creatively. Throughout my entire career I traveled freely across Europe, without an egg timer counting down my time left, and, ultimately, I now feel like I’m being penalised professionally, simply for being British,” he wrote, raising an important issue aside from the financial loss. Without the right documentation in place, you may be treated like a criminal by border police, as Trigger Cut experienced first hand. “We were handed over like criminals to the French border police and had to leave Calais,” the band recalls in a Facebook post.

Smith explained, “The UK government keep telling everybody via their websites that it’s free to enter the UK, you can do that no problem at all. Well, yes, you can, the problem is that you need to know, in depth, what the criteria are. The information is very opaque, as usual on government websites. So it’s left to independent like myself and other people to try and explain it.

There’s more rules that add to the mess, like the requirement for every piece of merchandise to be declared at customs under rules of origin, which means you need to fill out forms for t-shirts made in Taiwan or Malaysia accordingly. The UK rules on cabotage since Brexit require Truck drivers to return to their country of origin after three stops in the EU, before they can go again. It’s obvious what a nightmare this created for EU tours.

The information, of course, is all in English, which is a problem for many bands, because even native speakers have trouble understanding the bureaucratic language. “People are totally confused,” said Smith, adding that “situations like these create a storm of people worried and concerned, and so they begin to cancel tours, because they’re worried about being refused entry at the border, which may not even happen. It happens regularly for a variety of reasons, but it’s not as prevalent as people might consider it to be.”

One could argue that even one case like Berry’s or Trigger Cut’s was one too many. Smith has many examples that make one shake their head in disbelief, like the story of a Flamenco teacher, who was held at the British airport for eight hours, because he didn’t have the correct documentation, before being sent back to Spain. Smith said, “It’s killing off cultural exchange, it’s killing off economic exchange. And it’s killing off creative exchange, because people, particularly DIY bands, don’t have the resources or the wherewithal to be able to understand what’s happening or even who to ask for help.”

Any creative facing the unknown regarding Brexit may visit the free non-commercial advice site, and the Youtube channel

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