Horses need to be moved internationally to further their racing or breeding career. Without the ability to transport horses and their handlers between major racing countries with ease, the future is uncertain. Meanwhile, the clock ticks on towards Brexit Day on 29th March 2019.
The major racing players of the UK, the Republic of Ireland and France have had the Tripartite Agreement in place since the 1960’s, (well before the formation of the present day EU). The current version of the agreement came into force in 2014 and is due to end in 2020. The agreement allows racehorses to travel freely between the three signatory nations with no veterinary controls or any extra documentation beyond their equine passport required. There is a reporting duty under the agreement, which requires those transporting horses between tripartite nations to register the arrival and departure dates of their horse via an online system. Other than this, no administration is required. The process is easy to manage and ensures approximately 20,000 smooth, uninterrupted racehorse journeys between the UK, Ireland and France each year, according to Weatherbys.
So if the Tripartite Agreement is in place and is working well, what’s the problem going to be after Brexit?
Well, the Tripartite Agreement was transferred into EU law in 2009. This means that there is EU legislation which governs its operation. It also means that its continued operation after Brexit on its current terms is not guaranteed. In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal on Brexit Day next March, (a mere week before the Grand National), the Tripartite Agreement may cease to have effect and the industry could see a return to compulsory health checks for all horses crossing borders between the EU and the UK. This could, in turn, lead to quarantine restrictions and delays to travelling horses, which is itself creates a horse welfare issue. Thoroughbred horses are known to be quirky, but to also like routine. Any unnecessary delays at the border are likely to cause stress to a racehorse, which in turn may hinder performance on the track. In addition, if the UK finds itself trading on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms, then new customs procedures and tariffs which could adversely affect the breeding and sales industry may come into effect
A new international agreement on the movement of racehorses and bloodstock may be the way forwards for the industry in the aftermath of a no deal Brexit. However, this will not happen overnight and any such agreement could prove difficult to negotiate. Racing authorities in the tripartite nations may do well to consider how racehorses are presently transported between the UK and non-EU countries, when considering options for a new legal framework for horse transportation. A transition period where changes are phased in gradually before the end of the current agreement in 2020, would also be a sensible solution.
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has been liaising with the relevant UK government departments to ensure that the issue of freedom of movement for horseracing is not forgotten about in the run up to Brexit. BHA officials also met with representatives of chief EU Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, earlier this year to discuss how current arrangements can be preserved for the horseracing industry. However, clarity is still needed and the finishing line is not yet in sight on this issue.