Richard North, 27/08/2018  

Keir Starmer seems to have the measure of Mr Raab's "technical notices", describing them as a "poorly executed PR stunt designed to convince Tory MPs to back the prime minister's discredited Chequers proposal".

In the view of the opposition's Brexit spokesman, the government has "barely scratched the surface" of what would need to be done to prepare the UK for a "no-deal scenario". There was, he said, a serious risk of an "unsustainable legal vacuum".

On the other hand, if Mr Raab's intention is to downplay the effects of a "no deal", it looks as if his ploy is working. Larry Elliott, is writing in the Guardian under the headline "Britons seem relatively relaxed in the face of Brexit apocalypse", noting that: "Despite predictions of gloom from the Treasury and Bank, the public remains optimistic".

Elliott thinks (if that word can rightly be applied to a Guardian columnist) that there is a risk to the "latest manifestation of project fear". If the public really thinks that in eight months time Britain is going to be plunged into the economic equivalent of a nuclear winter, the economy will take a serious hit.

"So far though", he writes, "people seem relatively relaxed and haven't spent the bank holiday weekend stripping supermarket shelves of baked beans and bottled water". He then adds: "While opinion polls show that voters think – rightly – that the government is making a pig's ear of the Brexit negotiations, the state of the economy suggests they are taking what Carney and Hammond say with a pinch of salt".

Much of this ambivalence, one suspects, rests on the emergence of a new, advanced species of homo sapiens, manifest in a certain type of "ultra" who can discern in an instant matters which ordinary mortals might take weeks or months to work out, and still get them wrong.

The latest example of this comes with a BBC report (echoed in the Mirror) which proclaims: "Grand National 'could be hit by no deal Brexit', warns racing group". This comes from British Horseracing Authority, which had its Ross Hamilton tell Radio 5 Live that next year's Grand National could look very different if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

Crashing out of the EU, he warns, would potentially have a huge impact on Irish trainers and Irish horses following the end of the Tripartite Agreement system which allows horses to be easily moved between the UK, France and Ireland.

The main issue for Irish trainers, we were told, would be whether they were "comfortable" taking their horses over to the UK and being sure they get them back home again after the race.

In fact, the red tape associated with temporary imports and exports can be daunting, and would require the UK to be participants in an EU mandated registration scheme, which would have to be agreed in one of those famous "side deals" about which Mr Raab is so keen.

Given an unmitigated "no deal" scenario, where no such deals are agreed, there are those of us who thought that this could create serious problems for horseracing – about which I wrote in February 2017, pointing out that this was no inconsequential issue. The industry is worth £3.45 billion to the UK economy, employing (directly and indirectly) 85,000 people and underpinning a £12.6 billion gambling market.

My concerns were shared by Christopher Booker who wrote about the danger to the industry in his column in the Sunday Telegraph a few days later – in the days when he had a proper column.

Amplifying his comments, I was then in a position of remarking that, until arrangements had been made with the EU, the movement of horses from the UK to any EU Member State would be prohibited altogether – hence the concern of the Irish that, if their horses were brought to the UK, they might not get them back again.

The Guardian followed the Booker column with a story of its own, headlining: "Concerns raised over Brexit impact on free movement of horses", noting that: "Racing industry fears Britain’s withdrawal from EU may affect travel arrangement with France and Republic of Ireland".

Lucy Greayer, a shipping agent, said the racing industry was in the dark over the future. "The current agreement between Ireland, the UK and France means that horses can move around freely without health documentation or anything like that. But if you go further afield, to Germany or Italy, you have to have a certificate from a vet saying they have seen the animal in the last 48 hours and it is fit to travel".

She added: "We don't know what is going to happen. I have horses going to St Moritz in Switzerland. We are having to get a carnet [a document to clear customs]. And that costs a lot of money, hundreds of pounds. It's perfectly possible that there could be more restrictions going to France. We have more horses going to France than horses coming the other way".

There was very little response to these articles (mine in the blog and Booker's in a national Sunday newspaper, plus the Guardian), but there were some interest in the Irish press in August last year, at the Dublin Horse Show.

There, in a "Brexit Equine Forum", dealers reported that a "no deal" Brexit would bring an abrupt end to the Tripartite Agreement 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 threatened Ireland's £2 billion a year industry, so closely enmeshed with those of Britain and France, with what he called "an absolute nightmare scenario".

On 27 February 2018, we then had the Commission's Notice to Stakeholders on the movement of live animals which pointed out that the Tripartite Agreement would no longer apply to the United Kingdom as of the withdrawal date, thereby apparently confirming what I and Booker had written and that which a senior Irish government vet had called "an absolute nightmare scenario".

There seems to have been no direct response to this in the UK media although in in March we saw a brief report in the Financial Times - again with little follow-up until the BBC report from yesterday, nearly five months later.

But now, we see why the issue has been given so little coverage. Despite my extensive work on the issue – which was checked by the Telegraph legal staff when Booker used it – despite the concerns of the sources reported by the Guardian and of the Irish senior government vet, followed by the European Commission and its Notice to Stakeholders, the report in the Financial Times and now the warning of the British Horseracing Authority to the BBC, it seems we have all got it completely wrong.

On receipt of the news from the BBC, we had an instant response from Ruth Lea, Economic Adviser at Arbuthnot Banking Group, Co-Founder of Global Vision and doyen of the "ultras", expert in all things to do with Brexit. And it was she who put us on the right path.

Writing on Twitter, Miss Lea applied her vaunted expertise to the matter. Without the need for research or evaluation, her towering intellect was able to report: "Today's silly scaremongering story: if 'no deal' #Brexit - the Grand National. Irish trainers, apparently, concerned whether they'd get their horses back after the race!".

Fortunately for the "ultras", they have no end of supporters endowed with such gifts, enabling them instantly to pronounce on a succession of complex issues. And each time they do, unfailingly they are able to find that even the most diligent of research has flaws.

Each time they are confronted with the idea that a "no deal" Brexit might cause harm, the intellects of these superbrains come to the rescue and allow them to detect that all and any reports are just "silly scaremongering".

Interestingly, when it comes to the impact of Brexit on the Grand National, there is someone who has a direct interest in the outcome of a "no deal" – Rose Paterson, chairman of Aintree Racecourse, host to the Grand National. However, as wife of MP Owen Paterson, born-again "ultra", she will most probably seek his expert counsel.

Supported by the towering intellects of the "ultra" fraternity, he will doubtless be able to tell her that any threat to her business is "silly scaremongering". And how can we possibly compete with such awesome skill and knowledge?

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