Richard North, 15/01/2021  

Just a couple of weeks short of four years ago, I wrote this piece on the potential effects of Brexit on the horseracing industry, which Booker picked up in his column a few days later.

The industry itself seemed slow to react to the threat, but eventually set up the "Thoroughbred Industries Brexit Steering Group" (TIBSG) to liaise with government and to keep the industry informed about the cross-border movement of horses.

Like everyone else, it was stymied by the late conclusion of the TCA, and when the treaty was published, it more or less confirmed the worst fears – having made no specific concessions to allow the sport to proceed on the same basis as before.

There are some tax concessions in the treaty (Article CUSTMS.16 – p.85), but it would appear that temporary admission is to be made conditional on production of an ATA carnet (paragraph 3).

The situation has been confused by the application of Covid-19 restrictions, leading the British Horseracing Authority to issue a holding statement on Christmas Eve, which does not seem to have been updated.

This conveyed the advice of the TIBSG that no one should attempt to move horses for at least the first two weeks of January unless absolutely necessary. This was to allow time for agreements to be ratified and the new processes to be communicated to relevant officials here and in the EU.

Nonetheless, the group conceded that the process of moving horses would change significantly from the end of the transition period. It would be more complex administratively, more time consuming and was "likely to be more expensive".

The ease and informality of the Tripartite Agreement, easing movement between the UK, France and Ireland, has gone and, although "horse passports" are still recognised for thoroughbred horses, based on stub book details, much else has changed.

On top of residency and isolation requirements, horses have to be blood tested for certain diseases, an export health certificate will have to be obtained and signed by an official vet, formal notification of movement has to be given and entry must be via a Border Control Post, where veterinary inspection (for a fee) is compulsory. But it does not stop there.

Today's Racing Post (no link) suggests that horses sent from Ireland to the UK for racing will face potentially "colossal" VAT charges. Although these will be refundable, the payments are expected to take months to process, placing a huge financial burden on racing teams.

Already, there is some doubt as to whether some of the "big name" Irish horses will make it to the Cheltenham Festival. This could have a devastating effect on the Festival as horses trained in Ireland account for nearly 40 percent of the runners.

However, the problems are by no means confined to the "high end" of the horse world. As the BBC reports, a show jumping trainer has said that Brexit has stopped her taking horses to Europe to compete in events.

This is Rachael Williams, from East Yorkshire, who says there had been delays and confusion over the new requirements for taking live animals to the continent. She says she would usually travel to Europe around ten times a year, taking three riders and six horses to various competitions.

"We were told that if you were jumping internationally and if you had your horses registered with the Dutch federation, passport and things like that, you would get better travel and it would just simply be the same - and it is not", she says. "We haven't had a good Brexit deal at all, in fact we've had no deal".

Williams, though, isn't the only one making that discovery. A complacent livestock industry is finally being jolted into accepting reality, finding that "excessive" vet checks and paperwork are hitting meat exports to the EU.

And here we go again. About this, I wrote in January 2017, setting out in great detail precisely what was involved. Yet now the National Pig Association (NPA) is complaining that delays caused by what it claims are "excessive checks and paperwork" are making UK shipments unattractive to buyers in the EU, forcing processors to reject shipments and cancel future orders.

One load was held at Calais for 20 hours while inspectors carried out checks. The pigmeat was then rejected on finally reaching its destination in Germany because its quality had deteriorated. And still, the NPA warns that the full overall impact of the new rules is yet to be felt, as UK export volumes remain lower than normal for the time of year.

Processors have reported a number of issues. For instance, the administrative burden of health certificates means that vets are struggling to meet the demand. One processors took nine hours to prepare paperwork for a single shipment to the EU last week. paperwork for a 15 tonne shipment bound for the Netherlands required 12 stamps in three languages, in duplicate, or 72 stamps in all.

Furthermore, since inspectors are required to check labels on each box in consignments, pallets have to be offloaded and broken apart to be examined. And, as if this was not bad enough, Eurotunnel needs to process 500 lorries an hour but has the veterinary capacity for only 150 an hour, causing further delays.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies complains of "bureaucracy overload" but she does not help herself by displaying her own profound ignorance. She concedes that the "we always knew it [Brexit] would mean more red tape, checks and delays", but she then complains that "there is a political element, too".

About 30 percent of all UK consignments to the EU were being checked, she says, but this is far more than for many other third country exporters to the EU. For New Zealand, she says, the figure is one percent.

What she clearly doesn't understand is that New Zealand negotiated a special deal with the EU, something which our "fantastic" negotiators didn't bother to do, despite Johnson claiming that there were no non-tariff barriers – having not read the treaty he signed.

Instead we have Davies prattling that: "It is clear that the EU Commission wishes to make Brexit as painful and as messy as possible to prevent any other country from following suit, so we have very little hope of improving things". She is calling on the government to act.

However, she is not likely to get much comfort from that sources, with the ineffably stupid George Eustice telling Scottish fishermen that their problems are down to "teething troubles".

With the Mail dismissing measures as "Europe's petty revenge", while trade sources are blundering around in a fog of their own ignorance, it looks to be some time before business gets to grips with Barnier's "new normal". With little help from the media or politicians, they are having to find out the hard way the real meaning of non-tariff barriers, as one in ten trucks are being turned back at the border.

While Mrs May famously told us that "no deal" was better that a "bad deal", as Rachael Williams is finding, a bad deal is no better than no deal.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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