Richard North, 17/01/2021  

There is no doubt that businesses have been badly served by their governments over Brexit – some worse than others, with the UK in the "world beating" league.

But there are also strong indications that there has been significant "head-in-the-sand" behaviour exhibited by some business leaders and their trade bodies, with entirely unrealistic expectations of the post-Brexit/transition period.

One of the sectors which would seem to be indulging in this behaviour is the horse-racing industry, to which I've referred recently as I try to puzzle out the impact of Brexit, in all its ramifications.

That I should even be in this position is in itself odd. In the UK, the industry is far more important than commercial fishing – which has attracted so much attention. The first time I wrote about it, I noted that it was worth £3.45 billion to the UK economy, employing (directly and indirectly) 85,000 people and underpinning a £12.6 billion gambling market. The figures may have changed with time, but they are roughly in the same order.

Given the value of the industry – to say nothing of its totemic importance and the undisputed view that the end of the transition period will make cross-border movement of horses, on which the industry relies, more complex administratively, more time consuming and more expensive - one might have thought that there would be prominent complaints and significant media coverage.

Even though movement bans and other Covid restrictions have muddied the waters, I nevertheless have to admit to being perplexed by the extraordinarily limited coverage on this issue, most of which has centred around the impact on the Irish end of the business.

When I last left the subject, concerns were being expressed by an Irish trainer that VAT would be payable on racehorses imported temporarily into the UK which, even though recoverable, would impose a serious financial burden on the industry.

Since then, however, fears on that score have eased, although we are seeing acknowledgements in RTE News that "transporting horses abroad has become more expensive due to Brexit and could impact on animal comfort and welfare".

This comes from Wicklow-based Ronan Rothwell, who breeds about 20 top show jumping horses a year, with around 70 percent being sold to the UK and the rest to Europe.

Rothwell has encountered problems recently with two young horses that are ready to be transported to Britain. "There is", he says, "now a time lag because a veterinary report needs to be lodged with the Department of Agriculture for permission for export. That takes around three days".

"There is also the expense of paper work, which we never had before. Using the land bridge with the UK [to get to Europe] is extortionately more expensive than it was before." The other option is to transport the horses directly to Europe from Rosslare to Cherbourg but the "sad reality" of an 18-hour journey at sea was that "the losers in all of this are the horses".

Nothing in this report, though, gets close to identifying the problems facing the racing fraternity, although we do get some more idea from a report in the Irish Independent.

However, like so many media reports, the focus is on "paperwork", with the headline declaring: "'Don't get caught out' - Irish trainers warned to have documents ready ahead of post-Brexit Cheltenham".

We do, though, get confirmation (not that it was needed, because it is in the TCA) that the race horses and other temporary imports will require ATA Carnets. Ciara Dillon, from BDO Ireland, one of Ireland's largest business advisory firms, is brought in to explain.

Her advice though, as recorded in the paper, is confused, as she talks about the options of the ATA Carnet or a "temporary admission procedure", despite that fact that the Carnet is a temporary admission procedure, and is the one identified in the TCA. Incidentally, the Carnet can also be used as a transit document, as is explained in the 674-page explanatory guide.

The whole situation is rather downplayed, as Dillon does not mention the cost of the carnets, nor the 40 percent financial guarantee which must be deposited, or the insurance in lieu of a bond.

Nothing is said of the fact that the Tripartite Agreement falls, that veterinary certificates must now be furnished, and that entry into Europe must be routed via Border Control Posts, where the horses must be subject to veterinary inspection. Commentators seem to have no idea of what is about to hit the industry.

However, RTE does give some intimation of troubles to come, pointing out that the BCP at Calais will only process three horses an hour for arrivals from the UK. On this, the broadcaster cites Deirdre Seale and her husband Roy, who run Seale Transport and ship around 60 horses a month to Europe and Scandinavia.

Recently, they embarked on a dry run to see if they could continue using the UK land bridge only to find they could not get through Calais. Mrs Seale said they then tried to use the Rosslare to Cherbourg route direct to Europe.

"We were all loaded up and ready to go on Thursday night, our veterinary certs were stamped. Then we got a call from Stena to say the ship was not certified to take horses", Mrs Seale said, calling it an "exhausting and draining" time for the equine sector.

"The Government does not know what it's like on the ground, we are front and centre on the world's stage when it comes to the equestrian industry", she adds. "But they don't seem to have perceived the difficulties. The government and the governing bodies of the industry should be making sure that we can still export.

Mrs Seale fears that: "We are going to be left marooned while everything happens on mainland Europe without us", reminding us that: "You are dealing with people's livelihoods".

There is a sort of phony war feel about this. The problems are there and they are being confirmed in practice, but no-one as yet is sounding the alarm bells in a way that we have seen with some other sectors.

Once the season gets under way, and the small-scale eventers are also affected, my guess is that the media will finally wake up to another aspect of "train-crash" Brexit, with no end of gifted hacks breathlessly "revealing" the problems which they are largely ignoring at the moment.

But, as with the meat industry, fishing and other sectors, these are no mere "teething troubles". Through the Tripartite Agreement, the racing industry and other eventers have effectively enjoyed free movement for thoroughbred horses, with minimal formalities. The new procedures will be slow, cumbersome and expensive, and are bound to impact heavily on the sector, particularly the small players.

Eventually, we will start to see horror stories for other sectors, as the media craving for novelty reasserts itself, as the Covid news starts to abate. As Pete wrote yesterday, there are choppy waters ahead.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

comments powered by Disqus

Log in

Sign THA

The Many, Not the Few