how will brexit impact horses

As many as 25,000 horses a year can continue to cross the border between France and the United Kingdom (U.K.) unhindered, following a last-minute extension on the Brexit deadline. Until yesterday, however, equine industries in the U.K. and European Union (EU) had been bracing for a predicted halt in international horse movement as the previous April 12 deadline loomed.

European leaders met late on the evening of April 10 to address the U.K.’s break from the EU—commonly known as Brexit. Following a request for delay from U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, the council granted an extension up to Oct. 31, giving the U.K. time to ratify a withdrawal agreement. Depending on the agreement law makers vote to support, it could streamline trade rules between the U.K. and its former political affiliation, according to political experts. But while the extension buys more time for negotiations, equine transport standstills and pileups at checkpoints remain a risk.

Horses from all walks of life—including race, sport, and show horses and breeding stock—are likely to experience delays and could even be refused at border checkpoints during transport, political and industry experts say, which could have possible health and welfare consequences, as well as economically impact horse owners, trainers, and brokers.

Not only would movement become less practical, with added premovement testing requirements, but it could also compromise health and welfare at checkpoints, said Paul Marie Gadot, PhD, DVM, director of veterinary services for France Galop, the French racing authority.

“After Brexit, all horses—including broodmares and their foals—will have to go through physical inspections at the borders, which means stopping and unloading for examinations by veterinary inspectors,” Gadot said. “Obviously, that requires major infrastructures for handling all these horses. But the ongoing political procrastination is preventing us from properly preparing for Brexit, so those structures just aren’t ready yet. We risk having long waiting lines with heavy consequences on equine welfare, as well as on equine health for the more susceptible individuals.”

Other ways Brexit could impact horses largely depends on how the EU chooses to classify the U.K.’s country status.

“The EU could decide to maintain certain member country trade privileges, such as in the movement of horses, or it could decide to acknowledge the U.K. as a ‘third country’—meaning those special privileges would dissolve,” said Eric J. Lyman, a Rome, Italy-based journalist specializing in European politics.

In order to avoid that scenario, the EU and the U.K. would have to agree to a specific kind of exit “deal” that would reduce the negative trade effects of the U.K.’s break with the EU. But finding a deal that both sides will agree to has been elusive.

“Without the right deal, various trade treaties established by EU member countries could be voided,” Lyman said.

One such treaty is the 2014 Tripartite Agreement (TPA), which facilitates the movement of high-health, high-performance horses between France, the U.K. (including Scotland and Northern Ireland), and Ireland. The TPA is a European community regulation agreement between the chief veterinary officers of these three countries. It allows these high-level horses to travel between countries without a veterinary certificate. A Brexit without a deal that specifically addresses that point would cancel that agreement.

May has vowed to finalize a deal well before the Oct. 31 deadline. But if that date comes and goes with no deal, Lyman said, the U.K. would not yet even have third-country status.

“Third-country status isn’t automatic,” he told The Horse. “It has to go through an approval process.”

That process could be gradual, affecting certain kinds of trades and treaties over a matter of days, weeks, months, or even years. “If the EU wants to make an example of the U.K. to dissuade other countries from exiting the union, they might drag out the approval process,” Lyman said.

In an effort to prevent that situation, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) has met with “multiple stakeholders” in the concerned countries in order to develop proposals that would continue to allow fluid movement of horses after Brexit, a federation representative told The Horse. At press time, however, no deal has been met.

Meanwhile, Gadot said, thousands of additional horses could run into movement blocks at the U.K./Ireland borders as well—including the border between Ireland (EU member) and Northern Ireland (part of the U.K.).

The British Isles’ geography could also hinder transports between the EU member nations of France and Ireland, with the U.K.’s England, Wales, and Scotland in between. “The Tripartite Agreement would theoretically still work between France and Ireland, but on a practical level that could only be applied via air travel, as it’s unlikely we’d be shipping horses by sea to get around the U.K.,” he said.

For Gadot, politics are getting in the way of a tried and tested equine biosecurity system.

“The three Tripartite countries have equivalent biosecurity measures, and that system has functioned for nearly 40 years (through various kinds of treaties) without any biosecurity incidents, he said. “All the experts agree that there’s just no sanitary justification for adding additional measures post-Brexit.”