Richard North, 12/03/2018  

One of the most remarkable things about the Brexit debate (and there is very stiff competition) is the relative quiescence of commerce and industry, and the low-key behaviour of their representative bodies, even where vital interests are threatened and whole sectors are at risk.

Of the enterprises most at risk from Brexit, there can be few to compare with horse racing which, as we pointed out on 1 February 2017, stood to be hit rather badly from the loss of special concessions which allowed the unrestricted movement of bloodstock between the major racing centres.

The particularly troublesome issue is the lapse of the 2014 Tripartite Agreement on Racehorses, mandated by Council Directive 2009/156/EC on animal health conditions governing the movement and importation from third countries of equidae.

This is an agreement between France, Ireland and the United Kingdom, originally established in the 1970s, in order to regulate the movement of race horses between the three countries without formal veterinary inspections taking place.

Currently, it simplifies the process and reduces costs of moving horses between the three countries, allowing racehorses to be shipped without pre-movement veterinary checks and certification, and without the requirement for isolation and quarantine periods at their destinations.

Given anything short of continued EEA participation – which Mrs May had ruled out from 17 January 2017 – and these concessions would no longer apply. And since the UK would be outside the EU, to reinstate the free movement afforded will almost certainly require new legislation from the EU, made under the aegis of Commission Decision 92/260/EEC (as amended).

This requires complex procedural steps and is unlikely to be high on the priorities of either the Commission or the UK government. But the failure to reach a timely agreement on this would have a devastating effect on the industry. One would have thought, therefore, that the affected enterprises and their representative bodies would have been quick to sound the alarm and highly voluble in calling for a fix.

However, even when Booker publicised the problem in his column in the Sunday Telegraph a few days after my piece, only the Guardian followed up, with a story on 9 February. The rest of the legacy media was silent – not even Booker's paper, which had been given a scoop on a plate, did a piece. As so often, it ignored its own columnist.

As for the Guardian report,we saw something of the complacency afflicting the industry. The paper quoted Will Lambe, director of corporate affairs at the British Horseracing Authority. He said he had made representations to the government that they need to protect the industry during the coming negotiations, adding: "The tripartite agreement pre-dates the formation of the European Union and there is no reason it should not remain in place following Brexit".  

Confronted with such a low-key response (and a media unable to work the facts out for itself), it is perhaps unsurprising that it took until August before there was any more significant publicity. This was in the Irish press and even then it was fairly muted. Nonetheless, publicity there was, in a number of Irish papers, highlighting a potential disaster that had huge implications for the UK.

As before though – and in common with so many other issues – this was ignored by the UK legacy media. Clearly, it thought the fate of an industry worth annually nearly £4 billion (eight times the value of the fishing industry), employing directly and indirectly 85,000 people, was of little significance.

Bizarrely, even when the Commission issued a Notice to Stakeholders on the movement of animals, post-Brexit, nothing was reported. Yet, on 27 February 2018, the Commission declared that the "Tripartite Agreement" concluded in accordance with Article 6 of Directive 2009/156/EC between France, Ireland and the United Kingdom "no longer applies to the United Kingdom as of the withdrawal date". 

And so the silence prevailed until last Saturday, 10 March, well over a year since I reported the story. Then, in the run-up to next week's Cheltenham festival, we saw a short report in the Financial Times, retailing a call for "free movement" of racehorses after Brexit. The industry, we were told, wanted free cross-border travel for British, Irish and French thoroughbreds.

At last, in the UK legacy media (apart from Booker and the Guardian) we see it acknowledged that "restricted horse movements would have a devastating impact on the Irish breeding industry and hit the whole way UK racing is financed". But, from comments of Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland, there is no indication that the nature of the problem is fully understood – or that there is any clear idea of the remedy needed.

Kavanagh, for instance, refers to problems arising in the event of a "hard", evidently not appreciating that the Tripartite Agreement will lapse once Brexit takes force (after any transition period). And, if the impasse on the Irish question isn't resolved, that could be in just over a year's time, on 30 March 2019.

The Financial Times then has horseracing officials saying they want "to build on the tripartite agreement". Apparently Kavanagh, Nick Rust - chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority - and Olivier Delloye - his counterpart at France Galop, the governing body of flat and steeplechase racing in France - met senior officials representing Michel Barnier in September.

Via the FT, Mr Kavanagh says: "At that time the Commission line was Brexit is a binary thing. You're either in or out. But they also made clear they were ready to look at reasonable solutions for our industry". He then refers to the agreement on the Common Travel Area for Irish citizens (north and south) and thus believes that, "there must be some imaginative way so that can expanded to include racehorses".

Actually, this is delusional, not least as it ignores the Notice to Stakeholders. And as the procedure for dealing with third countries is already established, it will be used, to avoid charges of discrimination with other third countries. With the UK outside the EU Single Market framework, this will have to be followed before free movement of racehorses between EU Member States and the UK can be permitted.

Needless to say, the procedure cannot be initiated until the UK has left the EU which, in the absence of a transition period, could mean a period when free movement is suspended.

For the horseracing industry, therefore, this must be a nervous time and finally, in yesterday's Mail on Sunday we at last saw reference to this in a popular national newspaper. Under the headline, "British racing festivals 'face ruin from a hard Brexit'", came the news that no provision had been made for the free movement of horses once the UK leaves the EU.

In what was an obvious copy-out from the Financial Times, the same Mr Kavanagh was quoted. With considerably less detail, the only thing added was a statement from a government spokesman, who offered the anodyne and largely uninformative comment that: "We are working with Ireland and France on developing new arrangements for after we leave the EU".

For us mere mortals, this illustrates yet again how badly the legacy media are performing when it comes to the progress of Brexit. Ironically, we saw another example in the same edition of the Mail on Sunday, which covered some of the latest developments on the Legatum Institute.

Although I broke the original story in July 2017, it wasn't picked up by the Mail on Sunday until November, with a botched report that had the paper shoehorning in an irrelevant Russian dimension which confused the issue and distracted attention from the important matters of concern.

But now, updating its own story, we see the paper preening itself with the claim that it had "revealed" Legatum's "influence on the Government’s EU agenda" back in November, implying that its action had led to a Charity Commission investigation which had somehow led to Snake Oil Singham and his colleagues moving to the IEA.

Such hubris is so typical of the legacy media. Often late to the party, they will "liberate" material whenever it suits them, rarely acknowledging sources. In the style of beast, nothing exists until they have "discovered" it, whence they will claim the credit for their "revelations". We even see the papers claiming to "reveal" information when their sources are published website pages.

For all their resources and self-importance, though, they have not covered a fraction of the technical issues relating to Brexit and, even now, have almost completely lost the plot when it comes to reporting what might be an imminent breakdown in the negotiations.

When the history of this tumultuous period comes to be written, no doubt writers – many of them journalists – will be quick to criticise the politicians and campaigners. Yet, somehow, I suspect, the manifest and continued failings of the media will scarcely if at all be mentioned.

The victors, they say, write the history. And the first draft of history is often regarded as the contemporary media reports. Between the two, it is no surprise that our history is often so badly written.

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