Horse world must unite to put Brexit issues on political agenda *H&H Plus*

  • Industry experts at the National Equine Forum discussed how Brexit has been affecting business and everyday life, and look at what is being done to mitigate the impact

    THE equestrian sector needs to unite to take a cohesive, coherent campaign on the effects Brexit is having on our industry, to UK and EU ministers.

    Representatives from across the sector gave presentations on the impact on the sector since the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.

    British Equestrian Trade Association executive director Claire Williams said leaving the single market has had a huge impact on businesses.

    “Europe has become a market, or markets, to which we formally export, and import from, which demands skill sets totally new to many people,” she said.

    “We didn’t know what was coming. The promise of a deal meant many companies largely put off preparation; without detail, they didn’t know what precisely to prepare for. The deal, we were told, would mean we would be able to carry on frictionless trade. It wasn’t the Christmas present most people thought it was, or would have wished for.”

    Ms Williams said exports from the UK equestrian trade, excluding horses and vehicles, amount to over half a billion pounds a year, over half of which is thought to be sold in Europe. There are also huge sales from UK businesses into Europe.

    Ms Williams said companies have to deal with a “vast” and complicated array of documentation to export, which appear to exceed that needed to export to other countries. The markets in Europe have differences, such as in VAT rates and documents demanded, and Ms Williams said there has been confusion when paperwork is demanded, but not required or available.

    She warned that extra duty is an unforeseen cost, as the tax is levied on the value of a shipment when products enter the EU, then when sold on to the UK, duty is levied again as if it were entering from a third country. If it is sold to Ireland, duty is levied for a third time.

    “The trade is meeting the challenges as best they can, and slowly overcoming them, but it’s taking longer than we imagined,” she said. “Some solutions are being worked on, and for the future of our trade, it’s important we persist.”

    She said it is hoped the process will become easier. There are also “glimmers of light on the horizon”, as new trade deals’ will mean access to other markets such as Japan.

    Henry Bullen, director of Peden Bloodstock, spoke about the changes to moving horses.

    “My two least favourite words currently are ‘Covid’ and ‘Brexit’,” he said. “That’s probably the same across the board.”

    Mr Bullen said moving horses to the EU is now a “bureaucratic headache”.

    “It’s now certainly more complicated to take a horse from the UK to the EU than it is to go to the US, and it’s more time-consuming,” he said. “It’s definitely more stressful.”

    Mr Bullen described the new processes for moving horses; the vet checks, extra paperwork and delays at border control posts, as reported in H&H. Horses have been sent back to the UK owing to slight mistakes in the paperwork.

    “The biggest problem now though is not only horse welfare but the massive increase in costs,” he said. “It’s about a 600% increase on some crossings.”

    “But we are where we are,” he said. “The UK and Europe. It doesn’t meant we’re against them; we’re friends and colleagues, who work together and all have a passion for the welfare of the horse, and we need to make sure movement can continue. There’s a lot of work going on to try to reduce the burden on us all. Defra is working very hard with their counterparts in Europe, and we’re working with friends and colleagues, federations and the FEI to make sure the border process is improved, and reduce the amount of documentation.

    “With the support and dedication of all of us, we’ll be able to return to happy, fast, efficient and cost-effective movement.”

    Simon Brooks-Ward, CEO of HPower group that runs Royal Windsor and Olympia horse shows, questioned whether EU-based riders will come here to shows, with the extra costs, delays and paperwork, adding: “If the situation continues, do we have an international event industry? Long term, it’s unsustainable, so we have to do something about it if we’re to sustain our industry.”

    Mr Brooks-Ward said it is important international shows survive, as a “shop window” to the £8bn equestrian industry, which has a 270,000-strong workforce.

    He added that he recently chaired a group of top riders and coaches who met Defra, and that while civil servants are sympathetic, they are dealing with “an EU machine not minded to be helpful to the UK at the moment”.

    “We need a plan,” he said. “Together, we’re a force to be reckoned with; racing, vets, sport horses and breeding, are strong. Individually, we’re just a distraction.

    “The real solution will come from the EU and our friends in it.”

    Mr Brooks-Ward said it is felt there are three stages to go through: to understand the situation, so one equine community needs to “force the issues” on to UK government and EU agendas. We need to understand what other industries are doing, and what the issues are. He said step two needs to be a conference of all the interested bodies, to “sell the vision”, and that financial backing is needed, to get lobbying specialists on board.

    “Step three: we need to act,” he said. “One campaign, coordinated, cohered, collective responsibility and a really good lobbying firm, to hit hard where it matters. To get it to ministerial priorities in this country so it’s political. And we need to effect change among our EU friends and allies.

    “As event organisers, we’re trying our best to be that shop window; we need to create that so we can have a livelihood, fun and a sustainable industry going forward.”

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