Horses and their carers inseparable over Brexit

Government must make the sensible decision

With the UK now adopting a ‘hard Brexit’ position, British racing and bloodstock is highly motivated in responding to this enormous challenge to the industry.

Smoothing the passage for horses without making similar provisions for their carers would be an obvious nonsense

Any restriction that inhibits the free movement of thoroughbreds and racing staff throughout Europe would have potentially disastrous results, as Brexit challenges many of the fundamentals in transporting horses from country to country that we have always taken for granted.

You only have to consider the number of Irish horses that travelled here for the Cheltenham Festival to appreciate the complications that would arise if EU law, post Brexit, insisted that strong border controls were imposed. Worse still would be the catastrophic effect on British, Irish and French bloodstock if the easy movement of yearlings, foals and mares to the sales was frustrated by increasing red tape.

The tripartite agreement between the UK, Ireland and France, put together in the 1960s, facilitates the movement of around 25,000 thoroughbreds a year. But it appears that Brussels is currently taking the view that this arrangement will be negated when the UK comes out of the Customs Union.

British racing has had a Brexit Steering Group in operation for some time. Its agenda comprises horse movement and transport, animal health and welfare, movement of people and political communications. The group has been working with our Irish and French counterparts and has the support of two important government departments in Defra and DCMS.

Animal health and welfare is crucial to the free movement of thoroughbreds. Any ruling that, for example, causes a horse to remain in its box for so long a period that its health may be affected should not be condoned by any civilised nation, let alone the EU.

It may be significant that the EU is proposing to introduce the Animal Health Law in 2021. This law covers identification, premises control and movement. If, as expected, it does much to replicate the terms of the aforementioned tripartite agreement, it could also be adopted by the UK once we are outside of Europe as a way of solving many of the problems.

However, the official date for the UK to leave Europe is March 29, 2019 and, even now that the 21-month transitional period to December 31, 2020 is agreed, it would be dangerous to rely solely on this piece of new legislation coming through in time.

Not only does Brexit raise major concerns with the transport of horses across European borders, but we also have to consider the implications for the staff who travel with them. Smoothing the passage for horses without making similar provisions for their carers would be an obvious nonsense.

Racing’s workforce is, of course, high on the Brexit agenda. Even today, racing has a severe staffing shortage and this could turn into a crisis if exacerbated by our leaving the EU. It is estimated that 11% of racing grooms working in the UK currently come from countries in the European Economic Area, while a further 13% come from non-EEA countries.

It is therefore important that the British government is persuaded to include stable staff on its skilled worker list when it is time to decide on who will be able to work in the UK after we come out of Europe. Such a move might also attract a higher number of workers from non-EEA countries, especially as British racing would then have the ability to convey the attractions of working in the UK to foreign horse people.

With horses requiring passports and, often, vets’ certificates, much of the infrastructure is in place to help racing with the Brexit problem. Furthermore, the racing world has done a good job in persuading the British government of this industry’s social and economic importance. Even allowing for the vast Brexit workload in which all areas of administration is now immersed, it is reassuring to know that racing’s problems are being addressed.

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