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International trade, disease control and movement of horses are among the key issues that could be affected by the UK’s leaving the European Union.

Former Defra ministers, businesspeople and representatives of organisations from Weatherbys to the British Equestrian Federation met at the Horse Trust, Bucks, last Friday (20 May) to discuss the facts which could influence how we should vote next month.

Professor Tim Morris, a member of the Defra Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, introduced a panel of experts comprising Claire Williams, executive director of the British Equestrian Trade Association; Alick Simmons, a former deputy chief veterinary officer for the government; Graeme Cooke, a former policy advisor for Defra and veterinary director for the FEI; and Carolyn Madgwick, a former trading standards officer for animal health and recent member of the Equine Sector Council steering group.

What are the issues?

Transport

The recently amended Tripartite Agreement, which allows racehorses and those entered in FEI competition to move freely between Britain, the Republic of Ireland and France, pre-dates Britain’s membership of the EU and should therefore not be affected.

As horses move more and further to compete, so the risk of disease spread also increases. But it was thought that “if we left, there would be efforts to ensure horses were able to move around broadly similar to the way they do now”.

Passports

Although our current passport laws came initially from the EU, they are now British law, so would not cease to be if Britain left the EU. Horse Trust president and House of Lords member Baroness Ann Mallalieu said this could be an opportunity to keep the legislation we want and change or discard the parts that are unsuitable.

Farming subsidies

It was agreed that subsidies paid to farmers under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy would be likely to decrease if Britain left, but that subsidies might then be paid to farmers who benefited the environment, for example permanent pasture which is a feature of equine business, rather than “for doing nothing”.

Trade

Many equestrian products are imported first into mainland Europe, and then into Britain.

It was said that although the cost of these, and raw materials needed for example to make horse feed in Britain, might increase, this might prove to be a boost for British manufacturing.

It was also said that leaving the EU could open new foreign markets to British equestrian businesses.

Influence

There were concerns over whether leaving the EU would decrease Britain’s clout, for example in re-establishing food exports after an incident such as a foot and mouth outbreak.

It was also asked whether Britain would have less influence over horse welfare in Europe, but Lord De Mauley said the UK’s current level of influence was questionable, as “one voice in 28 [member states].”


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Staff

It was asked whether leaving would have a negative effect on the current staff shortage in the racing industry, but it is not yet clear whether this could be “an opportunity or a threat”.

Drugs

There was a question over whether leaving would mean being able to access drugs such as steroid cream Dermobion, which was banned by the EU, and an “end to the threat to ban bute [phenylbutazone]”.

Mr Simmons said there are currently restrictions on the way medicines are used for horses as there is no data on the drugs’ food safety implications, and the EU regards horses as food animals.

This is why passport legislation was introduced, so horses could be signed out of the food chain, and it would be up to the UK government to decide whether to continue.

Don’t miss today’s Horse & Hound (26 May) for a full report from last Friday’s meeting