With European Tours in the Balance, UK Suspends Post-Brexit Rules for Music Truckers
While only a temporary solution, the move will help larger U.K. operators that had to split their fleets and set up sister bases on EU soil.
LONDON — The U.K. government has agreed to temporarily suspend post-Brexit “cabotage” rules for some music haulers, following warnings from live-industry executives that the regulations were placing more than 100 European summer tours at risk.
The relaxation of rules allows some of the U.K.’s biggest trucking firms to work and travel freely across Europe by temporarily switching their vehicles from an EU operator’s license to a U.K. one for the home leg of a tour.
“This is a temporary exceptional measure which will ensure that our world-leading creative and cultural artists can continue to tour widely,” a government spokesperson tells Billboard.
Since January of 2021, when the post-Brexit trade deal between the EU and the U.K. took full effect, truckers in both regions have been subject to the cabotage rules, which require haulers to return to the EU or the U.K. — wherever their business is based — after making three stops in the other market.
For U.K. trucking firms, which have historically handled 80% to 85% of the European concert business each year, according to live-industry executives, those rules have devastating consequences because they prohibit them from servicing tours outside of their home country.
That’s led to some of the biggest U.K. trucking firms splitting their fleet and setting up sister bases on EU soil. But even in those circumstances, the regulations cause far-reaching problems by rendering EU-registered trucks unable to legally operate in the U.K. under the terms of their operator’s license.
U.K. concert-business association LIVE says around 110 European summer and fall tours were in jeopardy prior to the government’s intervention.
“This isn’t a full solution, but it is hugely significant and solves the problems for the larger operators,” says Craig Stanley, a promoter at London-based agency Marshall Arts and chair of the LIVE touring group, who led discussions with the government on behalf of the live sector.
Marshall Arts has 2022 European tours scheduled for Elton John and Herbie Hancock, which would have been impacted by the cabotage restrictions in some capacity, says Stanley. “The whole live music family —artists, technicians, suppliers, promoters, agents — everyone relies on trucks. No trucks means no tours.”
Although the measures are only temporary, Stanley says the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps has committed to introducing legislation that will make dual licenses a permanent part of U.K. transport regulations.
The Department for Transport would not comment on whether the measures will become permanent, saying the government recognizes that “challenges remain around touring in the EU and we are continuing to work closely with the industry to address these.”
“We would not have been able to operate our European fleet back in the U.K. without these measures,” says Richard Burnett, managing director of U.K. hauler KB Event, which is providing dozens of trucks for the European leg of Ed Sheeran’s Mathematics Tour, beginning in Dublin on April 19. “It’s a massive relief for [haulers] who are abiding by the legal rules of how they are supposed to operate.”
While a relief to most, the new measures do come with some caveats. The most significant is that they only apply to U.K.-based trucking firms that also have EU-registered fleets.
KB Event and several other of the U.K.’s biggest music trucking firms fall into that category, having invested significant sums in setting up EU bases to try and get around the issues raised by Brexit and cabotage. KB Event spent over £500,000 ($687,000) setting up a sister depot in Dublin, exporting trucks across the Irish sea and re-registering them as EU vehicles. Opening an Irish office also required around 60 KB Event drivers to retake their qualifications to gain an EU operator’s license, and to obtain new insurance for all vehicles.
Other major U.K. haulers that have started European businesses because of Brexit include Transam Trucking, which has opened subsidiary operations in the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland, and whose upcoming European tours include Elton John and Iron Maiden; and Stagetruck, which has opened a 4-million-euro ($4.6 million) depot in the Netherlands.
For those companies, the new measures mean they are now able to legally operate across Europe by switching from an EU operator’s license to a U.K. one when traveling back to their home country.
U.K. trucking firms that don’t have an EU base do not benefit from the relaxation in regulations. Nor do European trucking firms who operate under an EU license and are therefore only permitted three stops in the U.K. before having to return home. British classical orchestras who own their own trucks also will see no benefit and continue to be prohibited from transporting orchestras outside of their home market.
Ongoing issues around work permits and visa requirements for touring productions in six of the 27 EU member states – including Croatia, Greece, Portugal, Bulgaria, Malta and Cyprus – provide further challenges for agents and artist managers when routing tours of Europe.
To get around post-Brexit red tape, some haulers have been illegally ignoring cabotage restrictions since European touring resumed earlier this year, report live industry executives.
“So far, they have got away with it but there are serious consequences if you are caught,” says Robert Hewett, founder and director of Stagetruck, whose 2022 tours include Coldplay, Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish. Those consequences include the risk of having trucks and their contents impounded and vehicle and driver licenses suspended.
“For us, and anyone else with an EU base, the new rules are a welcome relief and mean that all of us can get back to doing our jobs fully and legally,” he says.