100 days of Brexit: the impact on animals

We are such a nation of animal lovers that we barely stopped to consider the ramifications of Brexit on pets, equestrian sports, showing and breeding, and swallowed all the reassurances about food and animal welfare standards with barely a murmur. Not many of us stopped to consider the impact of a US trade deal on the welfare on cattle feedlots in the States or, for that matter, the treatment of livestock in Australia or any of our other new Pacific besties.

But, as with so many things Brexit, the chickens are coming home to roost and the promises are being reneged on left, right and centre.

Previous articles have reminded us all that there was never any talk of leaving the single market or the customs union during the referendum campaign. Nor, it seems, did Johnson and his Brexit team understand or care to acquaint themselves with the harsh realities of ‘third country’ status. Beyond all the piffle-waffle bloviated by Johnson, there is the wreckage of many lives and livelihoods and a whole host of Brexit-related inconveniences, barriers and restrictions.

There are some who might crow about the new blue (actually black…) passports. The Brexit ‘bonus’ is that your pet needs one, too: if you want to take Buster with you on holiday, you’ll need an Animal Health Certificate from a vet which will set you back £110 every time you travel to the EU. It has to be in the same language as the destination country and has to be obtained within ten days of your departure date.

The government’s love of paperwork is fully indulged with a twelve-fold increase in page count, and a requirement for copies of vaccination records. Your pet cannot get a certificate unless they’re vaccinated for rabies a minimum of 21 days before travel and they must, of course, be microchipped. No last-minute holiday flits! And as for taking Buster’s favourite chow with you? Not such a good idea. It’ll be confiscated because of tougher third country rules on importing animal products. But, hey, maybe the passport cover can be blue with a union flag sticker on it for good measure. A flag a day makes the pain go away.

We covered the frustrations of French thoroughbred horse-breeders in a piece on how the French see us (complètement fou, évidemment), but lost trade and the obligatory mountain of extra paperwork have cost UK importers and exporters of breeding stock  hundreds of thousands of pounds. Major breeders have invested in state-of-the-art lorries to transport their valuable live cargo humanely and efficiently, with the vehicles driven by specially trained, qualified drivers. But since 1 January, that training and certification is no longer recognised, because unless British firms have a European address, the UK’s third country status means that EU countries will not accept them.

Many will celebrate the blow to live animal transportation. In the meanwhile, for those animals which do get through the system with the use of EU-trained drivers, the journey times are now much longer, with a stopover almost inevitable on most journeys. This cannot but add to the animals’ stress. It certainly adds greatly to the costs of transportation, to which must be added additional veterinary checks.

There’s a whole host of stories on Brexit’s impact on trade. For an easy-read analysis of what all this Brexity bureaucracy has done to the pork trade, you can do no better than this thread on Twitter. There are companies who provide official veterinarian and meat hygiene inspectors, who are absolutely incandescent over the UK government’s decision to prolong the grace period (the extension of transition not called an extension of transition, for obvious political reasons!) without any consultation with the veterinary profession. Gove has sneakily delayed the date for the introduction of health certificates and in-person inspections on animal products, to October and January of next year, respectively.

Diederick Opperman, managing director of HallMark Veterinary and Compliance Services, is very far from amused, saying:

“Michael Gove and his colleagues now at the top of Government assured us that they had a plan to deliver a Brexit that would be in the best interests of our country. We now know this not to be true.

“Unlike our political masters, the veterinary sector has prepared long and hard for the post-Brexit period, including the introduction of checks on meat and dairy imports from the EU. That has included the recruitment of significant numbers of professionally trained staff and paying for them to be ready to begin work in a matter of weeks.

“And then, without consultation, Mr Gove slips out an announcement which has left HallMark in an extremely perilous position because the work we promised to our new team members has been taken away.

“Based on past experience of this government, I also have no confidence in any commitments ministers make in relation to future start dates. It truly is an appalling situation and amounts to a betrayal of vets and, indeed, the government’s supposed Brexit ideal.

“Boris Johnson and Michael Gove promised the British people that Brexit would enable the UK to take back control of its borders. In truth and for reasons of political expediency, they have chosen to throw our regulatory borders open.

“We will be writing to Mr Gove to seek a meeting and ask when he intends to come up with a plan that sticks and what he expects me to tell my vets in the interim.”

He speaks for many beyond his own area of operation.

But it’s in the arena of animal welfare and animal sentience that the most egregious betrayals have occurred. We return to Mike Galsworthy’s tweet at the top of this article and to these tweets from Jay Rayner and Jo Maugham:

Jolyon Maugham: Gove: “As we leave the EU we will deliver a Green Brexit, not only maintaining but enhancing animal welfare standards”. Last night he voted against this clause.”

On animal sentience, despite promises of ‘energetic action’ on the issue back in 2017 from – yup, you guessed right – Gove, we are no closer to having laws which recognise the capacity of animals across species to feel pain, pleasure, kinship, grief and more.

“The British Veterinary Association’s (BVA) position on sentience recognises how critical it is that the principle is carried through into UK law now that we have left the EU. Taking action would mean that the needs of animals across the species were considered in future policy-making, and set a strong reminder of the UK’s position as a global leader on animal welfare,” commented BVA senior vice president, Daniella Dos Santos.

A Defra spokesperson trotted out the usual ‘have a pat on the head and now go away’ stuff:

“We’re proud to have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and we are fully committed to strengthening them further to ensure all animals avoid any unnecessary pain, distress or suffering.

“That is why the government has committed to introducing new laws for animal sentience. These will be brought forward as soon as parliamentary time allows.”

But time did allow already. The government had a golden opportunity with the EU Withdrawal Act 2018, when provision for animal sentience could have been transferred into UK legislation with ease. They did not take it. Instead, the government voted against continuing to recognise animals as sentient beings. So, since Brexit, farm animals are no longer protected by the EU animal sentience law which Compassion in World Farming (CWF) supporters won in 1997, after a gruelling 10-year campaign.

So much for ‘energetic’ action. And for keeping Brexit promises.

Let’s face it, if they kept any Brexit promises, we’d all be gazing out of the window watching pigs enjoying the freedom of the skies…but that’s another story.