How, indeed whether, Britain will leave the European Union on the 29th March will impact animals and their welfare. Political paralysis in the UK means however that there are more questions than answers at the turn of 2019.
The British political system is currently torn between several factions, all of whom have their own vision of Brexit and how it should leave relations between Britain and Europe in the future. The only thing that unites a majority of these factions is that they oppose the draft withdrawal deal that was hammered out between the British government and the EU over the past year and a half.
Indeed, a vote took place in the British Parliament last week which resulted in the biggest defeat for any government in British political history. The deal, as it is currently constituted was not only rejected, but is now dead, buried and decomposed. What happens next is then anyone’s guess. But whatever happens is bound to have a significant impact on animals in the UK, in Ireland and in several other EU countries.
If the current deal is somehow substantially amended, reworked or packaged in a way that satisfies most British Members of Parliament – although this looks like an unlikely outcome – it will mean:
- When the UK formally leaves the Union things will broadly operate the same for the following until the end of 2020. The UK will still be subject to EU law and animals and animal derived products can still move freely as now
- A close trading deal and partnerships covering a range of areas, including veterinary matters, will be sought immediately from 30 March to be in place for 2021
- Eurogroup for Animals is confident that a close relationship around animal welfare could help to mutually drive up standards in both the UK and the EU
- If no relationship is finalised by the end of 2020, the island of Great Britain will stay in the EU’s customs union (like Turkey), whilst Northern Ireland will in addition remain subject to EU rules – including on standards around animal welfare. This relationship will be replaced once a new relationship has eventually been agreed
If however no amended version of the rejected deal is forthcoming, either the British government could look to change their ‘red lines’ and seek to find a new form of relationship with the EU, or Brexit could even be stopped. However, it is also becoming increasingly likely that Britain simply leaves the bloc on 29 March without any deal in place at all. And the effects on animal welfare of that are terrifying.
Mandatory veterinary checks would be introduced overnight on all animals moving to/from the UK. Tariffs of well over 40% in most instances on animal derived produce would introduced. The UK could not sell any meat produce into the EU market as its slaughterhouses would no longer be approved. In short, trade would be disrupted on a massive scale.
Animals in the UK could face shortages of feed, with even pet food being affected. Animal testing in the UK would increase by an estimated 50% as the UK loses access to crucial EU testing information exchange bodies. Queues stretching for many kilometres at borders would pose huge threats for any animals being moved. Beef farmers in Ireland and France, white and poultry meat exporters in the Benelux countries, and dairy farmers in Ireland would be heavily hit. Farming systems in Britain particularly would be expected to change to respond to domestic demand. A certain hit to the British pound sterling would make everything from animal feed to medicines more expensive.
We have come to a fork in the road. The future for animal welfare in Britain, a future that will be felt one way or another in the EU, will be decided in the coming days. Eurogroup for Animals’ Brexit & Animals Taskforce is preparing for all eventualities and is determined to ensure that opportunities to improve animal welfare are seized, and threats are mitigated. The next few weeks will be crucial.
Joe Moran, Political Adviser
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