Is it possible to deliver events across Europe post-Brexit?

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On January 1st 2021, the free movement of people and goods and services between the UK and the European Union ended, a consequence of the UK leaving the EU 12 months previously.  

Such a momentous event would ordinarily have sparked alarm and concern in the live events industry and certainly at Evolution, where around 30% of our event management and technical production projects are in the EU. But the prolonged lockdowns and travel bans due to the pandemic meant that the moment passed us all by largely unnoticed.

Spring forward 6 months to Monday July 19th and it was “freedom day” – travel bans and COVID restrictions were pretty much gone. The Events World was back! Our production team celebrated with our first live event for almost 16 months – 100 delegates in Berkshire for an internal company announcement with a further 200 watching remotely.

Meantime, 1600 that same day found me at LHR T5 taking one of 5 PCR tests to enable me to fly down to Nice on the Cote d’Azur to recce the Nice Acropolis convention centre and 4 sea front hotels… all booked during lockdown on behalf of our French client. Even our client based in Paris had been unable to travel to Nice to check things out. 

T5 was pretty much deserted, all went smoothly with the (half empty) flight. Then I arrived at the French border… and joined the “other passports” queue and they stamped my passport! If ever I needed a reminder that our events world had changed, that was it. Bang! Pleased to report that the recces went well.

We had 3 months to plan the event, 350 delegates from the UK and France…. Around 150 UK delegates peppering us with questions about what had changed and what they needed to do, both COVID test and passport wise. Aside from the passport stamping, the 90/180 rule began to surface in questions. A common misunderstanding is that the rule – that you can only spend 90 days out of 180 in the EU – applies to individual countries; it applies to anywhere in the EU, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. The EU exception is the Republic of Ireland, which is not currently part of the Schengen agreement. Dublin could get busy!

On July 19th when I landed in Nice my 180 day calendar started, limiting me to 90 days anywhere in the EU until the middle of the following January. With the skies now fully opened up, this may become an issue for regular travellers – like most of us in the events industry.  

So the getting there for you, your delegates and our team remains straightforward, UK airport queues and cancellations aside.

The rules though have changed for “goods” – in our case, AV kit, cameras, stage set and so on. We own all of our own kit, so it usually works out much more cost effective for us to take our gear from the UK, but would that still be the case with the new rules? And what about the time it would all take… customs, carnets and the rest…  could we remain uber competitive? 

You’ll recall earlier I mentioned the October 2021 event in Nice? That was our first foray onto the continent post-Brexit. We checked our costs against the venue’s in-house supplier and a locally based AV company who we have worked with for many years – they support us with those last-minute requests on the ground. Like—for-like our costs were around 20% less than our local guys, and 30% less than the venue.  And that was taking into account the transportation from leafy Bucks down to Nice and the cost of the carnet (£1700 + VAT). The logistics of the event – main plenary, 3 conference streams for 150 pax and a 20 space shell scheme exhibition – meant a 45T artic was needed. And that was with using our local supplier for the bulkier elements like poseur tables, bar stools and stage. 

The Carnet explained. Well, this is very different post-Brexit! Sure, we’ve always had to do a Carnet of some description whilst we were in the EU, a bit of a rubber-stamping exercise TBH. But now it’s serious. Every serial number of every item, large or small, needs to be entered on the Carnet, together with a description and a value. 

And every single item has to come back to the UK post-event to avoid paying import taxes. It kind of works that the goods are being sold to the EU, then sold back to the UK – even though there’s no sale involved. With me so far? Unlike with the 90/180 Rule for travellers, for Goods going to and returning from the Republic of Ireland a full carnet is required – no exemption there! The rule for Northern Ireland – currently – is slightly different in that a more straightforward Temporary Admission can be used instead of a Carnet, provided the items are coming back to the mainland within 2 years

The Carnet process is quite laborious and has to be 100% accurate if you are to avoid potential delays at customs. I’d suggest an absolute 7-day deadline for final confirmation of kit. 10 days is more comfortable. We use a very very trusted import / export agent to sort our Carnets and smooth over the details. 

Border crossing and Customs – the realities. Nice Cote d’Azur was our first foray but we’ve been back into Europe many times since. French / Dutch / Spanish customs on the way out are efficient. A thorough, professional Carnet is the key here, to help ensure smooth passage and negate the need for the truck driver to empty the entire contents of the lorry for the guards to check. Touch wood, we’ve had no problems with that part. 

We do, though, need to factor in “local” conditions in the UK. The Port of Dover especially can be a tricky one, with priority being given to tourists and smaller vehicles as the trucks line up down the motorway. Until staffing issues at UK ports are resolved, we are building in an extra 12 hours for that. That doesn’t impact the costs to you mind.

Reflection…. The answer to the opening question is absolutely YES. Live events ex-UK carry on in the EU as before Brexit, albeit with extra paperwork. Evolution successfully delivered a new event for a new client, for 500 pax in Paris over the Queens Bank Holiday weekend with an Artic full of kit – with 3 weeks notice. It can be done. If you know what you are doing.

Local laws, restrictions and guidance are ever changing, so do check with the UK Government or the destination authorities for the very latest on COVID entry rules and restrictions, and on general travel.

Andi Swain
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Andi Swain
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