The Final Countdown

for the love of music; Why Your Vote Counts

Darren Johns for DMS - 09 Dec 2019
For The Record

Brexit may have been delayed longer than one of Sting's orgasms but, if the Tories win the election, we will be out of the EU sooner or later, with no-deal still on the table. To paraphrase Labour's campaign theme song of 1997: things can only get worser.

The future is unwritten. That's one of Joe Strummer's oft-cited quotes. But here we are, in December 2019, and we're still immersed in the revolving Parliamentary shit-show to end all shit-shows. No Brexit, plenty of speculation, a not inconsiderable amount of confusion, accusation, depression and division, and a looming General Election. If the Tories win, some version of Brexit will be initiated on 31st January. Unless it isn't. If Labour win, there will be another referendum with 'Remain' as an option. If the Remain camp wins, democracy could get very tasty indeed. But I don't mind hand-to-hand street combat with rabid gammoners as long as our bands can tour Europe to our heart's content, so bring it on. If it's a hung Parliament, things may get convoluted to the point of eternal stalemate. It's a bloody farce, is what it is. Joe Orton would be proud.


The effects of Brexit are already being felt. Touring bands from the UK are being delayed at customs. Vans are being stopped by mainland cops in various countries more often and subject to passive-aggressive harrassment. Project Fear? Get bent. This is on-the-ground reality for working musicians right now. When the pre-cum of Brexit causes unwanted hassle, you just know the real thing will be a living nightmare. Government guidelines from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport state that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, all touring parties would face extra issues with documentation, travel and the transport and sale of goods as they take their work to individual EU member states. That means we would have to check every country's immigration rules for requirements regarding documentation, work permits and visas. And you can wave goodbye to your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which would necessitate the purchase of private health and travel insurance for every tour.


That extra documentation – Carnets, Green Cards, working Visas – cost money and take time. A Carnet (essentially a passport for every item of merchandise and band equipment) costs £325 per year. A Green Card (temporary regional vehicle insurance) would be an additional separate cost for each country you pass through, regardless of whether you play there or not. Carnets and Green Cards are currently required in many non-EU states. Working Visas would be required for each country, costs of which will be determined by the host region. On top of that, bands may have to pre-pay import duty and VAT on all merchandise brought into each country. And on top of that, unscheduled bus/coach services in EU countries may require a standard international operator licence, which is not available to individual drivers, only licensed operators. Anyone attempting to tour Europe without one could be subject to hefty fines.

Outgoing UK Music chief executive, Michael Dugher warned in a recent interview with The Guardian that the potential, hugely negative impact on artists' ability to sell merchandise and transport equipment would jeopardise future tours, damage Britain's export earnings and threaten our talent pipeline. “Most artists operate on tiny margins and the prospect of extra cost and bureaucracy would kill their ability to tour, develop their talent and build their fanbase.”


So, let's say your upcoming 14-date tour takes in five EU countries. By our maths (based on conservative estimates and using non-EEA countries as a guide) there could be an estimated extra cost of at least £2500 to figure in. This would mean that your fee would have to rise by at least £200 per gig. Small, independent promoters will simply not take the chance on paying you £400-£600 for a performance if you're not established enough. And it could mean many months of waiting for the all the necessary paperwork to be processed. Bands would, therefore, need to do three or four European tours per year to bring overall costs down, which is simply unfeasible for a lot of grassroots musicians who still need to hold down day jobs.

As for European bands touring the UK, a lot of them will simply steer clear. There are plenty of welcoming countries within the EU for a touring band to play if they're from the mainland. So we miss out on the glorious cultural exchange programme that is the pan-Europe music scene and instead earn a reputation as the new no-tour-zone of Europe: unwelcoming, unviable and unenviable. You're not safe even if you don't leave this country. A UK-based booking agent or promoter that deals with artists in the EU via phone or online will be seen as supplying a service, which could incur imposed tariffs.

Whatever happens, we are not going to be prepared for the effect of Brexit despite short-term assurances that freedom of movement will continue until 2020, followed by 'leave to remain' for a further three years. The early stages of Brexit will see much confusion as border control staff may not have the required information on how to process travelling musicians from the UK. But we know for sure that not a single person in the music industry, in politics or in the civil service is making any positive predictions about the effects of Brexit on the music biz.


So this is why musicians, sound engineers, stage techs, road crews, managers, agents, record labels, promoters, bookers, merch workers, drivers and music fans have to vote tactically in this election. No ifs, no buts. It’s our only chance for a solution to a ruinous future for the music industry. Europe is our extended family. Without them we are marooned. And if that doesn't sway you, surely the Tories' systematic dismantling and selling of the NHS will? Or perhaps their continuation of austerity that crushes the poor while the national debt still rises? Or their steadfast defence of the criminally unfair Universal Credit? Or their pandering to far-right sentiment regarding immigration and migrant workers? Or their ideological, utter disregard for working class people in general?

It's not rocket science. Kick the Tories out, stay in Europe, build bridges not walls, fight fascism, avert disaster. It's what Joe Strummer would have wanted.

Image credit: Stefan Ibrahim for the Brexit Big Band, a controversial, ever-evolving musical collaboration created as an artistic response to the EU referendum., celebrating artistic and musical collaboration and communities across borders.
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