If a week is a long time in politics, then two weeks seems like an eternity! In this blog, I’ll give you an overview of the last (incredibly busy) fortnight, and what this all means for the equine sector.
This time two weeks ago, some people were cautiously optimistic that the House of Lords’ amendment to the Brexit Bill that would guarantee the right of all EU nationals living in the UK might be agreed by the House of Commons and become law.
This would've been good news for EU citizens working across the equine sector.
This optimism was quashed when MPs voted to reject the amendment and keep the Bill in its original form.
The Bill then when back to the Lords, where in somewhat anti-climactic and disappointing fashion, the Lords conceded and passed the Bill unamended.
And with that, the Bill was finalised and sent to the Queen who granted Royal Assent yesterday. The Prime Minister now has all she needs to trigger Article 50, which she intends to do by the end of the month.
This is a worry for EU nationals working in the UK who won’t meet the criteria to stay by the time we leave the EU – the criteria being that they will have lived here for five years, have a parent who has the right to stay, or have children here.
Employers are also concerned. In an article in Business Insider earlier this week, Grand National winning trainer Oliver Sherwood said that ‘Brexit and a tougher stance on immigration could be disastrous for stables’ and even said that he would consider retiring if Brexit negatively affected his business.
This could very well be something we see echoed across the racing industry and beyond.
In fairness to the Government, it has said that it intends to give EU nationals the opportunity to remain in the UK, but it didn’t want to tie its negotiating hand by formally writing it into the Bill.
Once the Prime Minister triggers Article 50, she'll begin these lengthy negotiations with European leaders about what Brexit really does look like. Until these negotiations happen, the future of EU nationals in the UK will remain unclear.
Last Wednesday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond delivered his first Budget to the House of Commons.
As you may have seen, the focus of the fallout of the Budget was the uproar over the Chancellor’s plans to increase National Insurance Contributions (NIC) for the self-employed.
These plans went against the 2015 Conservative manifesto commitments not to increase NICs, VAT or income tax.
After being enlightened to this fact, the Chancellor made a swift U-turn on these plans this week, saying that he wanted to honour the manifesto commitments “in full”.
This is welcome news for self-employed people working across the equine sector.
Another key element in the Budget of interest to the sector was the announcement on business rates.
Many equine businesses, including trainers, riding schools and livery yards, are facing significant hikes in their business rates due to the new rateable values that are due to come into effect in April.
These increases will have a detrimental impact on these businesses, with some of them already taking the decision to close because they cannot cope.
In the Budget, the Chancellor announced:
- support for small businesses losing Small Business Rate Relief to limit increases in their bills to the greater of £600 or the real terms transitional relief cap for small businesses each year
- English local authorities will be provided with funding to support £300 million of discretionary relief, to allow them to provide support to individual hard cases in their local area
While these measures doesn’t solve the crux of the problem – the extremely high new rateable values – it does provide a level of support for those facing significant increases.
And as if the Government wasn’t busy enough, the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Monday her plans to call a second referendum on Scottish independence between the autumn 2018 and spring 2019 – at the exact time that the UK will be finalising its withdrawal from the EU.
For the referendum to go ahead, it needs the agreement of Theresa May who has been less than favourable to the idea.
While it’s unlikely that May will deny Sturgeon of the referendum outright, it's the timings that she's taking a hard line on.
The Telegraph reported yesterday that May could delay the referendum for ‘as long as six years’, stating that Scots should have the chance to see how Brexit plays out first before voting on independence.
Both May and Sturgeon are very strong minded and certainly not afraid to stand their ground, so it’ll be interesting to see how this battle continues.
It’s too early to say for certain what Scottish independence could mean for the equine sector, but was we can say is that it'll certainly open up a big can of worms, and raise many questions; not least whether an independent Scotland would be able to join the EU, and what passporting measures will be in place for horses moving between England and Scotland.
No peace for the wicked…
So after the last two weeks, the Government will be hoping that the next fortnight will be less of a headache.
It’s very unlikely that this will be the case – by this time in two weeks, Article 50 will have been triggered, the process of actually leaving the EU will have begun, and negotiations will have started to determine what Brexit really does mean for us in practice.