One of the immediate casualties of any hard Brexit that supposed to happen come October 31 will be Ireland’s horse-racing industry.
On both sides of the Irish Sea, thoroughbred racing and horse breeding is very serious business indeed, with some 32,000 people working in the sector that adds an estimated $7.2 billion (Dh26.48 billion) to the economy of the islands.
In Ireland alone, there are some 16,000 people working in the sector, and the annual bloodstock and breeding sales generated roughly $400 million last year. There are roughly 10,000 horses that are trained and stabled in Ireland and they participate in race meetings on both sides of the Irish Sea on any given day. Some 15,000 horses moved between the two islands last year.
On any ferry crossing between Larne and Cairnryan, Dublin and Holyhead, or Rosslare and Pembroke, there are horse carriers taking the animals to meetings up and down Ireland, up and down the United Kingdom. Because of the free movement of goods, services and people, there is no issue.
Veterinary standards are the same between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland — France too — all thanks to their memberships of the European Union (EU). But once that ends — and without a deal as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans come Halloween, that all ends. Instead, the free movement is gone, the horses can’t move, and those who own stables and thoroughbreds will face a crisis that will shake the industry to its foundations.
As things stand right now, the two countries horse-racing industry acts as one.
Come November 1, it’s a horror story.
The UK, Ireland and France have had a tripartite agreement on horses that dated back nearly six decades and it was folded into the body of laws, treaties and agreements that all became part of EU law. But come a hard Brexit, that law no longer applies, and each and every movement of horses — and any other animal too — between the UK and Ireland will cease to be.
As things stand right now the horse-racing industry is probably the best example of a fully integrated industry where the actual borders matter not one iota. But that’s all about to change if a hard Brexit happens.
But it’s not just horses either than will be affected. The EU even issues so-called pet passports for dogs and cats, allowing animal owners to take their furry friends on holidays. Come a hard Brexit at midnight on October 31, those too won’t be worth the paper they’re printed on, and British pet owners will be out of luck. No EU pet passport, no movement. Instead, quarantine regulations and conditions will apply for pets — and horses — moving between any EU country and the UK.
The strict rules will also apply on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. What’s more, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, racehorses and every other beast will be subject to veterinary checks, quarantine and even tariffs under the World Trade Organisation rules that would take effect at one minute past midnight on Brexit Day.
As any thoroughbred fan knows, these are highly sensitive animals bred and trained to perfection to run or run and jump as their raison d’etre. The last thing that these highly strung horses would need is being stuck in a confined horsebox in a traffic jam waiting for a veterinary check and other controls to take effect. Last year in the UK, one-in-five Group One winners were Irish bred, and the value of bloodstock exports to the UK was more than $300 million.
Sign of hope
After a hard Brexit, the UK would be become “third country” status, necessitating the veterinary and regulatory checks. If there is a sign of hope it’s that horse-racing authorities can reach a deal to resurrect that tripartite agreement, but even that will take months, if not longer. And any deal would have to be signed off both in Brussels by EU officials, and by the governments in London, Dublin and Paris. And if indeed there is a hard Brexit and the effects are as dire as everyone predicts, the horse-racing industry will be just one sector in a long line awaiting sign off by governments that are expected to be overwhelmed by the impact of the Brits’ decision to leave on October 31.
In horse-racing parlance, the thoroughbred sector will be just one of many industries jockeying for position in a very crowded field indeed. And the going will be very hard.