COVID-19 travel restrictions have been obscuring Brexit complications for gambling companies, consultants and conference organisers, but problems are set to become more obvious as travel resumes.
About 30 companies have withdrawn from the COVID-delayed ICE London 2022, several citing Brexit or “logistical difficulties” as reasons.
One of the biggest, Gauselmann Group, has urged organiser Clarion Gaming to move the gambling conference to the European Union as soon as possible, citing customs delays and work permit headaches.
But Brexit red tape concerns go well beyond the logistics of getting heavy equipment in and out of the country.
As travel resumes, British citizens may find their business options restricted in the EU and EU citizens may find it just as complicated to do business in the UK.
One big impact of Brexit is the fact that British consultants may not be able to work in the EU without a permit.
Even being transferred from a UK branch of a company to another branch of the same company in the EU may require a work permit or visa.
British citizens also need to keep track of their days in the EU, as they only have visa-free entry for 90 of 180 days.
Still, most affected are those companies moving equipment in and out of Britain.
Since January 1, exports from Great Britain have been subject to full customs checks, which has led to reports of mile-long queues at the Dover port of entry.
That would be clearly a problem for a company bringing 50 truckloads of equipment into the UK, as Novomatic did in 2020.
From July 1, import controls on animal-based food products begin, which could jeopardise Novomatic’s usual provision of thousands of Austrian “Wiener Würstels” to serve guests at ICE.
“We’re not in a free market anymore, you can’t just move goods about [easily],” said Paul Mills, event organiser for SBC Events. “There’s always going to be extra time, extra effort bringing goods into the UK.”
SBC organises online sports betting and casino conferences in the UK, the EU and the US.
The end of EU freedom of movement for British citizens could also affect gambling conferences in the EU, but more directly, working in general.
Likewise, EU citizens have lost freedom of movement privileges in Britain — one of Gauselmann’s complaints was that staff of a German catering company are now apparently unable to work at ICE without a difficult-to-obtain permit.
Freedom of movement across the EU ended on January 1, 2021 for British citizens, and vice versa, but the scale of changes may not have been readily apparent because international travel was curtailed until relatively recently by COVID-19 restrictions.
“For trade fairs, it’s not a handicap. For consultants, it is absolutely a handicap,” said Catherine Barnard, professor of EU and trade law at Cambridge University.
The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement allows “temporary admission” to attend conferences, and for goods displayed at a conference.
The conference attendee, officially a short-term visitor, can attend, negotiate a deal and take orders, but cannot supply services.
So a consultant attending the conference cannot take on paying work without a work permit, even if they are self-employed.
One long-time British casino consultant who works frequently for EU-based companies was stunned to learn of post-Brexit requirements.
“Wow,” said Andrew Tottenham, who formerly worked for Caesars Entertainment and Las Vegas Sands. “Wow.”
Tottenham said he typically writes his reports at home in London, which could mean he will not get caught in red tape. But as a dual national, he may have a better solution.
“I think I’m going to use my Irish passport to set up a Spanish company,” he said.
Companies seeking expertise may find British residents not worth the trouble to employ, according to one Brexit expert.
“In a competitive economy, they may choose to not use a UK national if they’re not prepared to do additional paperwork,” said Sarah Hall, a University of Nottingham professor of economic geography and senior fellow with the UK in a Changing Europe thinktank.
Worse, every country has different requirements.
“The mobility clauses in the Brexit trade deal are really, really complex and they haven’t been fully tested yet,” she said.
The Department of Trade and Industry referred questions about Brexit impact to 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s office.
“We’ve always been clear that being outside the single market and the customs union would mean changes and that businesses would need to adapt to new processes,” a government spokesperson said.
“That is why we are ensuring that businesses get the support they need to trade effectively with Europe and seize new opportunities as we strike trade deals with the world’s fastest growing markets, including one-to-one advice through the free-to-use Export Support Service,” the spokesperson said.
EU citizens face comparable rules in Great Britain.
British rules only allow for an EU citizen to do paid work for a UK company without a permit if they meet standards including “providing advocacy in legal proceedings” or “guest lectures at a higher-education institution”.
Other issues with EU conferences include the fact that British residents can only spend 90 days out of each 180 in the EU.
“We no longer have free movement,” said Marcia Longdon, a business immigration law specialist at Kingsley Napley in London.
If a business person has just enjoyed a long, leisurely European vacation, “I’m going to think twice about that business conference”, she said.
Although rules differ from country to country, in general, overstaying in the Schengen area can lead to a fine, immediate deportation or being barred from Schengen countries.