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German punk band denied entry to the UK as a result of post-Brexit touring rules

Labour MP and APPG on Music chair Kevin Brennan tells Rolling Stone UK that the situation risks putting 'a stain on the UK's reputation as a great music country'.

By Nick Reilly

Trigger Cut (Picture: Facebook)

A German punk band have said they are “heartbroken” after being refused entry to the UK for their tour, due to “complicated” post-Brexit rule changes that are “no longer possible to understand”.

As The Guardian first reported, Stuttgart three-piece Trigger Cut were set to play seven venues across Britain this week, but were turned away by the UK Border Force at Calais last Thursday (6 April).

Labour MP Kevin Brennan, the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Music, told Rolling Stone UK that the band’s plight risked putting “a stain on the UK’s reputation as a great music country”.

“It’s a complete mess that has really been caused by the government from the get go. They’re not putting an emphasis on the importance on the cultural exchange that music touring represents and the economic importance of it,” he said.

Trigger Cut explained that their passports were confiscated after being stopped at Calais, before a Border Force official asked to see a “certificate of sponsorship” from each venue they were scheduled to perform at.

The band did not have COS certificates, but planned to enter under the “permitted paid engagement (PPE)” exemption, which is free and allows musicians to tour the UK for a month if they can show a formal invitation to a pre-arranged event and proof that they have a departure date and an ability to financially support themselves.

“We had prepared for the tour because we knew there might be problems entering the UK. We are a small and unknown band, so that’s why we chose the easiest and cheapest method,” guitarist Ralph Schaarschmidt told Rolling Stone UK.

“We found out that you need so-called invitations from the organisers, which we quickly received.”

Upon arrival in Calais, Schaarschmidt says that a customs official deemed the PPE invitations to be insufficient and said only a certificate of sponsorship would suffice. After 1.5 hours, the group was handed back to French police, who in turn told them to leave the Calais port area and return to Stuttgart.

“It took us a few minutes to realise that our long-planned tour couldn’t take place,” said Schaarschmidt. Half a year of planning, a lot of energy and heart and soul was destroyed within 90 minutes.”

He added: “England, the birthplace of punk is still very important to me. My heart was broken at the moment of being denied entry. It was a slap in the face. It’s very confusing right now to know exactly how one can get into the UK as a musician. There are different possibilities, but the ones which cost a lot of money are the safest ones. Everything is very opaque and complicated and it is no longer possible to understand what it is all about. There would have simply been a cultural exchange, but the border police are stuck on numbers and forms.”

The group, who mined an extensive amount of their own money into the associated costs of the tour, now say that they no longer plan to tour the UK in the future.

Kevin Brennan added: “I don’t think anybody who voted for Brexit was saying we’ve got to vote for Brexit to stop those Germans coming over here with their guitars. It’s an absolutely ludicrous outcome and it’s entirely the government’s fault for making it such an undemocratic and uncertain process.”

Criticising the government’s lack of action, Brennan said: “I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on music and we issued a report last year which we sent to the government and they haven’t responded to me about the recommendations of that report. One of those was that we should have a named minister in government who has the will within government to pull together the different departments and say, look, this isn’t an issue of immigration here.

“This is an economic and cultural matter and we need to sort it out and put the right emphasis and resources into sorting this out to make sure that our artists can tour as freely as possible in Europe post Brexit with the agreement of our European neighbours and friends and similarly, in exchange that European musicians can do the same in the UK.”

In turn, Brennan warned that upcoming UK bands could face the same fate as Trigger Cut on the continent.

“If bands are being turned away on a whim like this, it’s going to happen tit for tat, isn’t it? It’s going to affect a pipeline of UK musicians who just want to tour Europe and play their music. Our musicians could face a situation where customs officials can always find a rule that means they can’t just go and play a few gigs.”

He added: “I’m not confident on that basis that it will be solved any time soon, but it could be with the right attention from government and it should really be a priority.”

A government spokesperson told Rolling Stone UK: “Musicians and performers are a valued and important part of UK culture with the country attracting world class entertainers and musicians from around the globe. This is why we offer a dedicated immigration route for creative workers. 

“All visa applications are carefully considered on their individual merits in accordance with the immigration rules. The application process is designed to ensure that all visa decisions can be made using the most accurate information and is fair for all applicants.”