Richard North, 14/08/2017  

It doesn't take very much these days to find out the official rules for many things. Most governments are internet savvy and tend to post the details on their websites.

So it is with importing and exporting horses. If you want to know the rules for bringing in a horse from another EU Member States, all you have to do is look here and you'll find them all set out – including details of The Tripartite Agreement (TPA) which applies to racehorses.

If you want to know how imports from non-EU countries are treated, however, you need to look here. For a start, it says: "You can only bring live animals or animal products into the EU from countries on the EU’s approved list". And then there is the requirement to use a Border Inspection Post.

This you might have read on this blog. And that's going to be the situation when we leave the EU. We will be a "non-EU country" and rules which are set out will apply to UK movements.

Rules for the movement of racehorses throughout the world vary widely, but an illustration of how other countries do it can be gained from the US website. So varied and complex are they that the advice given to those planning to transport a horse into or out of the UK is get a professional to do it for you.

That would not apply at the moment to the movement of racehorses to and from Ireland, either from the mainland or across the Northern Ireland border. The bloodstock industries in the UK and Ireland are so closely integrated that they are essentially one. With EU rules and the TPA, cross border movement is very easy.

However, when an Irish government vet raises the alarm about the post-Brexit situation, which I reported on this blog recently, it is perfectly valid for Booker to pick up the story and run its in his own column.

Across the Irish Sea, he writes, they are finally waking up to a disaster looming over the future of one their chief economic sectors, which also has huge implications for Britain.

At last week's Dublin Horse Show, a "Brexit Equine Forum" discussed the consequences for Ireland's horse racing and bloodstock industries of Britain’s decision, by leaving the European Economic Area, to become what the EU calls a "third country".

This, the audience heard, will bring an abrupt end to the arrangement whereby they and their British and French counterparts can, under EU law, move tens of thousands of horses a year freely in and out of each other's countries without hindrance.

As a senior Irish government vet explained, this threatens Ireland's £2 billion a year industry, so closely enmeshed with those of Britain and France, with what he called "an absolute nightmare scenario". Up will go border inspection posts to ensure that any horses entering the EU from Britain must carry an EU health certificate and be subjected to full veterinary inspection. Building new facilities and training staff could not be completed by Britain's exit date.

According to a leading Irish trainer, the new procedures could create delays long enough to make movements impossible under animal health rules. So, no more Irish horses at Cheltenham, and much else.

Booker notes that similar EU rules requiring border inspections posts, vets and delays will severely hamper all traffic of animals and "products of animal origin" across the border with Northern Ireland.

He thus concludes that they may at last in Ireland be waking up to all this. But in Britain there is little sign yet that our own politicians are aware of just what a problem they seem bent on creating.

And in that piece there is nothing particularly contentious. It is largely factual apart from the observation that there will be no "more Irish horses at Cheltenham". That is classic hyperbole, but entirely justified given the massive impact an unmitigated Brexit will have on the Irish industry.

To read the comments on the Telegraph website, though, is to enter a different world, where Booker is a "remoaner" who is "plumbing new scaremongering depths with this absurd dross", or writing "nonsensicle (sic) anti-Brexit articles".

The absolutely classic response, though, was this from John Bowles, who wrote: "I'm not a horse racing expert, or even a fan, but surely horses already travel from Ireland all over the world - Hong Kong, UAE, America and other far flung NON EU destinations. If so then where is there a problem?"

Although we often see the same names, and the number of comments is way down (less than the comments we recorded yesterday), this still represents a significant part of the "leaver" sentiment – the faction that will not accept that there is any down side to Brexit and no problem that cannot be solved either by the EU abandoning its rules, or by the Irish defying Brussels.

If there was a predominating view, it is that for more rigorous rules to apply to the movement of horses would be just an example of Brussels being "bloody minded". The solution, quite obviously, is for the EU not to apply its own rules.

The trouble is that this seems to represent the views of many politicians, many of whom seem to think that EU Member States prize their access to our market so greatly that they will prevail on the EU institutions to waive their rules when it comes to the EU. The belief is that, just prior to exit day, the EU will "cave in" and afford us access to the markets of its members on much the same terms that we have now.

One must hope that our government is able to negotiate a transitional deal that will have the desired effect, otherwise we are going to be in serious trouble. Largely, except where EU legislation itself gives them some flexibility, the EU simply cannot waive its rules. To do so would put it in breach of its own treaties, and would doubtless conflict with WTO rules.

Racehorses, though, are but one issue. There are hundreds if not thousands of similar issues, where export from "third countries" is covered by a myriad of technical rules. Other countries, that have grown up with the EU system, have had decades to attune their systems to EU requirements, so none have had to start from scratch.

For the UK, if it comes to having to agree on this vast range of technical rules, we will be starting from scratch, a process that could hardly be completed in less than a decade. And it is that to which Booker is drawing attention.

If, however, the politicians and a significant faction of the commentariat don't believe this, then we are in serious trouble. They will take us over the cliff edge for the very reason that they don't accept that it exists. Problems are simply inventions of the "remoaners", who are trying to keep us in the EU.

So bad has it got that anyone who even suggests that we may encounter some problems when we do leave is immediately branded a "remoaner", who must then be disbelieved. Add to that inability of the media to see this issue in anything other than binary terms, we end up with "leavers" who think that getting out is easy, and "remoaners" who don't.

Grown-ups would recognise that the position is far more nuanced, and that we have many technical problems which we need to overcome. To ignore them is to ensure that they overcome us. But then, the "leavers" have an answer to that - it's all the fault of the EU for not changing their rules.

And by this stupidity, so shall we perish.

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