We’re getting closer to the triggering of Article 50 and the start of the formal process of exiting the European Union. It’s been a busy couple of weeks with House of Lords debating the Brexit bill (and causing the Government a bit of a headache) and the National Equine Forum.
In her latest blog, Zoe White updates you on recent developments and explores how Brexit could affect equine identification, health and breeding legislation, equine welfare and the Common Agricultural Policy.
Thank the Lords
In my last blog, I explained that the Brexit Bill (as passed by the House of Commons last month) did not guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and it would be down to either the Lords or the Prime Minister’s negotiations with the EU to change this.
In a heavy blow to the Government, the Lords have indeed voted for an amendment to the Bill which calls for ministers to ensure the rights of EU citizens in the UK within three months after Article 50 is triggered. This amendment was introduced by Labour Lords, backed by Liberal Democrat and Crossbench peers, and also has the support of seven Conservative Lords.
This is a step in the right direction for those EU citizens working in the equine sector, but it needs to be noted that this amendment is not set it stone just yet. It'll have to be agreed by the House of Common when the Bill returns to that Chamber, and the Lords are already calling on MPs to oppose the Government and support the amendment.
There may well be another amendment for MPs to vote on. Next week, the Lords are due to vote on whether MPs should have a“meaningful vote” on the result of the Prime Minister’s negotiations with the EU – something that might be quite appealing to some MPs.
Despite all of this, Theresa May is still adamant that Article 50 will be triggered this month. While this isn't impossible, getting the House of Commons and House of Lords to agree on such a momentous bill is so far not proving as straight forward as hoped.
“Reasons to be cheerful”
On 2nd March, the leading figures from across the equine sector descended on London for the National Equine Forum. Naturally, one of the key topics was the impact of Brexit.
Representatives from Defra, Weatherbys, the British Equestrian Federation and BETA took part in an engaging panel discussion on the topic, and one of the memorable quotes from the session was Clare Salmon of the BEF quoting Ian Dury and saying that there are many “reasons to be cheerful”.
While Brexit has brought to the fore a number of issues that will affect the equine sector (such as those being discussed in this blog series) it is in no way all bad news!
Indeed, as the panellists discussed, Brexit provides the equine sector with a great opportunity to:
- maximise the benefits of the Brexit-inducedexchange rates
- enhance British manufacturing and strength the British brand
- strength trade links and Britain’s role as a key trading partner
- cement Britain’s role as a leader in equine welfare
It was great to see that there was optimism among the leaders of the British equine industry, and it'll be exciting to see how the sector capitalises on these opportunities over the coming years.
In the meantime, let’s have a look at some of the additional issues the sector has to bear in mind in light of Brexit.
Identification, Animal Health and Breeding Legislation
With most existing EU law being converted into British law under the “Great Repeal Bill”, the current equine identification, animal health and breeding legislation will remain in place for the time being.
What the Government will need to do is review each piece of legislation and decide whether to keep it as is, amend it, or just remove it from the statute books. This will include the 44 animal welfare laws that have been agreed at the EU level. This process could take many more years than the two years it will take us to leave the EU.
The Animal Welfare Act, the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act, and Welfare of Animals Act (NI) are enshrined in UK law, so these will be unaffected.
Most equine welfare legislation in the UK is implemented via the Animal Welfare Act. Key exceptions are welfare in transport and slaughterhouse rules, which will almost certainly not be diluted, and will be transposed from EU into UK law.
However, given the different perspective of some EU states, where the horse is an agricultural and even food animal, this is an area where divergence is quite possible over the longer term.
Common Agricultural Policy
British withdrawal from the EU will end its participation in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). There is a relatively small proportion of horse breeders in the UK who currently benefit from the CAP.
Nonetheless, they're at risk of losing that support, and their focus should be on emphasising the importance of their acreage of untilled permanent grassland as part of the rural environment.
A Busy Fortnight Ahead
Westminster will be busy over the next couple of weeks as the two Chambers try agree on the terms of the Brexit bill. By the time of my next blog, we’ll be in mid-March and within touching distance of the moment when UK officially starts bowing out from the EU. I look forward to updating you on everything that’s been happening then.