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‘No deal’ – no problem?
  1. Josh Loeb

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At 11 pm on 29 March all exports of live animals from the UK to the EU would cease under a no-deal Brexit.

Unweaned calves would no longer be trucked hundreds of miles from Scotland to Spain, sheep would no longer be loaded onto boats at Ramsgate. The trade would be killed – stone dead.

Other types of trade would dry up too. Exports of meat, cheese and other animal products to the EU would immediately be rendered as nil.

Without a deal the UK would immediately be classed as a third country. It would then need to acquire ‘listed status’ before any such trade in live animals or animal products could take place.

How long would that take? Defra admits there’s no way of knowing, while the National Farmers’ Union says the process, which cannot properly begin until after the UK has officially left the EU, would take at least six months.

The damage that would be inflicted on livelihoods of farmers and associated businesses if such a trade embargo were to be imposed can only be imagined.

But is that just a nightmare scenario? What if exports of various sorts could continue even without an overarching UK-EU deal?

A pure no-deal Brexit is almost unimaginable. It would mean no agreement between the UK and EU on anything. Far more likely is that, by 29 March, a series of mini-deals of varying degrees of formality will be in place to facilitate trade even without an overarching mega-deal.

Behind the scenes, the groundwork is being laid. Port Boulogne Calais claimed this month that it is creating a new inspection post where veterinary checks on animals and animal products could be carried out. The French government, meanwhile, is hiring hundreds of extra personnel, including vets, to check consignments from the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Why this hiring spree if there will be nothing for the French vets and border officials to check?

In reality, even with plans to facilitate trade there would still be significant obstacles to overcome in the form of higher tariffs, 100 per cent checks on consignments of live animals and animal-derived products, and increased certification requirements.

A speedy increase in the UK’s veterinary capacity is undoubtedly needed

A speedy increase in the UK’s veterinary capacity is undoubtedly needed to meet this last challenge – and Defra knows it. As previously reported in Vet Record, the anticipated increase in the volume of work for public health vets has led the APHA to start recruiting an army of certification support officers to work under the direction of official veterinarians (OVs). Defra has also drawn up contingency plans for the government to recruit OVs directly.

As Vet Record reports this week, at least one private employer of OVs is also now testing a special mechanism under which vets from Asia and South America could be temporarily licensed to practise on a limited scale without first passing the RCVS’s statutory membership examination – an exam any vet who holds a passport issued by a country outside of the EU and a quintet of ‘western’ countries must normally pass before they are officially allowed to practise in the UK.

Limited and temporary licensing of immigrant vets from countries whose nationals have traditionally faced significant barriers to entry to the UK veterinary profession would allow the number of veterinary ‘boots on the ground’ to be increased at speed to cope with – or at least mitigate – the impact of a no deal.

The UK is engaged in an ‘arms race’ with France and other European countries to bolster its veterinary capacity and may be forced to increasingly look to places like Asia and South America. The UK veterinary profession is not exactly known for its high levels of ethnic diversity (see VR, 19 January 2019, vol 184, pp 81-84) but if a no-deal Brexit is imminent we can expect that to change.

If concern about immigration was a partial driver of Brexit, there is perhaps some irony in that.

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