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No deal must come off the table, says BVA

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By Adele Waters

The BVA is firmly against the prospect of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.

Last week its council backed a call for a no-deal Brexit to be taken off the table in the current Brexit negotiations.

The position was taken by council members – who backed the move by a vote of 15 to four, in favour.

The decision followed a recommendation by the officer team and their detailed analysis of the likely impact of no deal on a range of issues, from veterinary workforce, animal welfare standards, medicines and the impact of new tariffs on trade, as well as its knock-on effect on farm and vet businesses.

Gudrun Ravetz, BVA past president, urged fellow council members to support the move, saying: ‘We have never shied away from things that affect animal health and welfare.’

‘This is not a vote on whether Brexit should happen or not,’ she said. ‘This is taking the evidence we have in front of us and making a decision for our profession and for animal health and welfare.’

Referencing the officers’ analysis, she said a no-deal Brexit would lead to ‘carcase imbalance’ (loss of markets for trade and high export tariffs could lead to overstocking and culling of healthy animals).

‘If you look at the impact of tariffs on agri-food and trade, there is a piece in there are about culling healthy and productive animals...there is talk of the mass cull of lambs with no attempt to get them into our food chain. This would be an obscene waste.

‘It would be morally and ethically indefensible for that kind of wastage. This a brave decision by the BVA and I wholeheartedly commend you for taking it.’

Jim Morris, Yorkshire and the Humber regional representative, agreed, saying: ‘This is about animal welfare and how the veterinary profession would cope with a no-deal Brexit. Nobody in this room has said “oh, it will be fine”. Every specialist division or region that has looked at this has said “we are heading towards a brick wall with no deal”. That is why we need to be against it.

‘It is intrinsically political because of the political situation we live in, but we need to be up there saying “this is not going to be good or rosy on 1 November”.’

And Judith Skerritt of the British Veterinary Hospitals Association, but speaking in a personal capacity, said: ‘If we feel a no deal is very bad for the country and the profession, do we not have a moral obligation to stand up and say that as an organisation?’

But council heard concerns that, since the BVA is politically neutral, some members may see the move as the BVA shifting into party politics. Some representatives reported they had received threats of resignation from some members if the BVA adopted the stance.

Phil Elkins, a member of the British Cattle Veterinary Association, but speaking in a personal capacity, said: ‘I’ve not heard anyone saying a no deal would be a good thing. I think we are all aware of the risks...however, there is a spectrum of views from “yes, we should be against it” to “I will cancel my membership if BVA was to lobby against it”.

‘It’s absolutely BVA’s role to educate and inform our members and the government about the potential effects of a no-deal Brexit...but taking a no-deal position, knowing it will upset a proportion of our membership, is a bold step and not one that I would support.’

And Ifan Lloyd, president of the BVA’s Welsh Branch, said: ‘There are very good arguments not to have a no-deal Brexit...I think it’s the role of the BVA to ensure those arguments are put across as strongly as possible, but the feeling of our members was that we shouldn’t go as far as making a political statement.’

But the officers made the point that the BVA’s role was to show leadership and sometimes this necessitated making political arguments.

BVA’s new president Daniella Dos Santos said: ‘One of BVA’s strategic aims is leadership and if we have all this evidence that a no-deal Brexit would have very serious consequences on both our members and animal health and welfare, yes that’s a political statement, but it’s not a party political statement. It is BVA showing leadership.’

Outgoing president Simon Doherty said: ‘We are not a party political organisation...but it is wrong to say the BVA is not a political organisation – we spend a lot of our time lobbying government on political issues.’

Following the debate, Dos Santos said she was proud the BVA had taken ‘a strong and clear position on something that could profoundly impact our colleagues and clients’.

‘A no-deal Brexit would leave the UK with no time to transition and adjust, with worrying outcomes for our colleagues, our clients, and the animals under our care,’ she said.

This is not a political position on leave or remain

‘This is not a political position on leave or remain, but a pragmatic approach based on the available evidence. We urge the government to take the prospect of no deal off the table.’ •

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