Shoot in foot

Cabotage sabotage: UK touring crippled by Brexit deal

UK tour vehicles of over 3.5 tonnes are to be allowed only two drops before returning to the UK as a result of the Brexit trade deal, the government has admitted.

The restriction on pick-ups and drops across EU nations, known as cabotage, was revealed by the DCMS (the department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) during an online meeting with music industry representatives a few days after the Brexit deal was ratified.

Flagged up as a potential problem in the Financial Times and the haulage industry media last August, it was clear that the EU intended to play hardball with the UK’s logistics industry. The EU’s stance was that not restricting UK haulage firms from roaming the EU picking up and dropping off loads would disadvantage EU hauliers.

The DCMS confessed they’d failed totally to protect the UK touring arts industry

The UK government argued for special dispensations for touring bands, orchestras, theatres and other arts groups and continued to tell the UK music industry that all would be well, with nothing to worry about.

However, it wasn’t until after the deal had been ratified by Parliament that the DCMS confessed they’d failed totally to protect the UK touring arts industry.

In a statement, the DCMS told the BBC, ‘The UK pushed for a more ambitious agreement with the EU on the temporary movement of business travellers which would have included musicians and others, but our proposals were rejected.’ The statement did not say for which other area the negotiators felt the touring music industry was worth sacrificing.

This news, on top of the onerous bureaucracy and expense of performing for money in the EU, is a hammer-blow for a vital UK industry, and exposes the lie behind the Johnson government’s promise of ‘friction-free’ movement for British creative artists and Johnson’s claim that, ‘The deal is fantastic news for families and businesses in every part of the UK.’

We need more transparency on what exactly the government has been saying to the EU

On BBC Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’ on 6 January, Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, and Mark Pemberton, Director of the Association of British Orchestras, said they’d been ‘completely blindsided’ by the news of the cabotage restriction.

‘All the way through, the government has been saying to us, ‘Don’t worry, we are really, totally committed to frictionless travel for musicians,’ said Annetts. ‘So, it came as a huge shock when on 30 December Lord True said, “Oh no, the EU has turned us down on this”.

‘So I do think we need more transparency on what exactly the government has been saying to the EU.

‘Mark and I both attended a DCMS webinar where we were told about the complexities of road haulage and it came as a massive shock.’

‘We were really stunned by the inclusion of this restriction,’ added Pemberton. ‘I think it’s one of those examples we’ve seen a lot of – potentially over-promising and under-delivering.’

To suddenly have lost our most important income stream is very, very difficult

Paul McCreesh, conductor and founder of the Gabrieli Consort & Players, joined the conversation.

‘Catastrophic is pretty much where we are,’ he said. ‘It’s really easy to think of famous names and orchestras when they think about classical music but most of us musicians are in small groups and ensembles… We all earn relatively small amounts of money by travelling. Ease of transport is at the very centre of our business model. Certainly, for the Gabrieli, the profit to pay for the management of the ensemble is paid for by touring and most of that is in Europe. So, to suddenly have lost our most important income stream is very, very difficult.’

Mark Pemberton concurred. ‘Where you can only do two drops in the EU before you have to come back to the UK, for any multi-date tour in the EU that is simply impossible,’ he said. ‘So, we’re stunned by the inclusion of this restriction and really having to work out what on earth that’s going to mean.’

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