'Tough Road Ahead' For Post-Brexit Horse Transport

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Transporting horses between the EU and UK has become more complex and expensive post-Brexit | racingfotos.com

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While Britain, Ireland and France are competing nations in the racing and breeding world, in recent years the Tripartite Agreement (TPA) has significantly eased the regular interaction between the three, particularly in regard to transporting broodmares and racehorses. The TPA recognised the high health status of Thoroughbreds and allowed for free equine movement between the countries. 

All that changed, however, when Britain's departure from the European Union was finalised with the end of the transition period on Dec. 31. Now that the UK is no longer an EU member it has been granted 'Third Country' status for future dealings with the EU bloc, and transporting horses to and from its European neighbours has become decidedly less straightforward.

A section dedicated to Brexit on the British Horseracing Authority website warns, “It remains the case that relative to arrangements prior to 31 December 2020, the process to move horses is considerably more complex administratively and time consuming.”

In addition, breeders moving mares, or owners moving racehorses, will also find it significantly more expensive for them to travel to Ireland, France and beyond. And that's when they are actually able to travel. With the Free Trade Agreement between the UK and EU only finally being ratified on Christmas Eve, the new documentation required by transporters, both for vehicles and drivers, means that for the time being they are effectively grounded. 

Rupert Erskine Crum, who owns Weyhill Transport in England, said, “On 1 January the EU ceased to recognise GB transporter authorisations. So effectively it became illegal for a GB truck to go into the EU and an EU truck to come into GB carrying horses—and that's GB rather than the UK as Northern Ireland is dealt with separately.”

He continued, “The irony of this is that for the last 13 years, the certificates, requirements, vehicle inspections and driver training for transporters in Britain, Ireland or France have been exactly the same. It's pan-European.”

Authorisation can now be applied for within any one of the EU member states but Erskine Crum says that he and his fellow transporters are still awaiting details on how this can be done.

“All our drivers have GB horse-handling certificates so now they have to go to rebadge, say in Ireland,” he added. “The vehicles now have to travel to an EU country to be inspected to receive new certificates, despite the fact that all my vehicles have recent certificates under exactly the same regime that they will be tested in Ireland, which of course brings considerable expense.”

Increased costs

In addition to the extra expense which will be incurred by the transport companies, and any trainer or stud farm owner transporting horses for commercial reasons in their own horseboxes, the bills will also increase through the extra blood tests and certification required for each horse. Furthermore, at present it appears that VAT will be payable, or security posted, in relation to the value of the animal being exported, even if it is only a temporary export while a mare is being covered or a horse is being sent to race overseas. The VAT can subsequently be reclaimed. 

Willie Mullins was the first to test the system when sending Grangee (Fr) from Ireland to run at Market Rasen on Saturday. The trainer has indicated that the mare's owners have avoided the VAT charges as she was transported under the 'temporary admission procedure'. However, the TBA's tax expert Peter Mendham still advises caution in this regard until further clarification is forthcoming from the British and Irish authorities. 

He said, “At the moment, as we understand it, the horse's owner has to put up security for the VAT, which is 13.5% in Ireland and 20% in Britain. The temporary admission procedure is absolutely fine and can be used but the issue is whether or not you have to lodge the security with the authorities when you take the horse in. Certainly the rules at the moment, in both the UK and Ireland, are that you have to put up security pending the return of the horse.”

Mendham added, “I would be very wary of assuming that you don't have to put up security until we get a formal ruling from both sides of the Irish Sea.”

Horses being transported from the EU for sales in Britain can be imported under the Docket System, which is being reinstated by Goffs UK and Tattersalls and means that the sales company acts as the importer and is responsible for paying the VAT.

Extra checks will be carried out for horses travelling into EU countries, who will be required to enter via a Border Control Post (BCP). These currently exist at the ferry ports of Dublin and Rosslare in Ireland as well as Belfast in Northern Ireland, and at Dublin and Shannon airports. On the French coast they can be found at Caen, Calais, Cherbourg, Dieppe, and St Malo. There is also a BCP at the Eurotunnel terminal at Calais (Coquelles), though the cost for horses crossing the Channel by train has increased significantly to £350 per animal on top of regular transport costs.

There are currently no BCPs at British ferry ports, though they will come into force on 1 July, meaning that horses arriving in Britain from the EU will not be subject to checks until that date unless they arrive by air to Heathrow, Stansted or Prestwick.

Talks ongoing

The Thoroughbred Breeders' Association (TBA) sent several missives to breeders in the countdown to the end of the transition period advising them not to attempt to transport horses in the first few weeks of January. Some made the decision to move mares prior to the deadline, while others have adopted a 'wait and see' approach, hoping that the situation will become less fraught as the covering season progresses. 

Julian Richmond-Watson, chairman of the TBA and the Thoroughbred Industries Brexit Steering Group, said, “Kevin Needham [of BBA Shipping] is hopeful that by the end of the month the transport companies will have the certification required to start moving horses. 

“From Britain's point of view, instead of having to put up the VAT when bringing horses back into the country we just have to value them and the VAT goes to your quarterly return. We can't answer for Ireland and France, but I understand Ireland is looking at ways for mares to be classified as grazing horses.”

Richmond-Watson added that he remains hopeful that an agreement can be reached with Ireland, if not France, whereby similar arrangements to the now-defunct TPA could be reinstated. 

He said, “There is a common travel agreement between us anyway. Maybe we will be able to come to some sort of [equine] arrangement with Ireland.”

At present, Britain can be used as a 'land bridge' between Ireland and France, and horses travelling between those countries will not have to go through check points at the border but will require an Intra Trade Animal Health Certificate. Horses travelling between the UK and the EU will require an Export Health Certificate for each journey.

Richmond-Watson added, “Border Control Posts are going to be a big issue because they are only open for regular office working hours and a lot of the ferries don't arrive on those timings so horses could be held for far too long. If they arrive after 5pm you can't leave them sitting on a box all night.”

Clarification sought for foals

New EU legislation means that foals will require a separate Export Health Certificate and will not be able to travel until they are at least 30 days old.

“We are currently seeking clarification on whether foals can travel on the same passport as their dam as before or whether they are regarded as a separate epidemiological unit. They have to do 30 days' quarantine to be able to travel, which means to travel a mare after she has foaled you miss the 28-day covering,” Richmond-Watson explained. 

“The EU task force has lobbied very hard to Brussels on this subject but has got nowhere yet. It's a big issue as people like to foal their mares at home and then travel them, but they are going to miss that covering.”

He added that talks are ongoing between the relevant departments in the British, Irish and French Thoroughbred industries.

“We're trying to talk to them all the time and I'd hope that in the next few months common sense will prevail and we'll get the transport side sorted,” he said. “But it is going to cost more. There will be more veterinary checks, more checks at the border posts, all of which add to the cost. I think everyone has to be aware of that and make their judgements accordingly.”

The TBA is advising that breeders contact their vet at least six weeks before a horse is due to travel in order for the appropriate blood tests to be carried out by the Animal and Plant Health (APHA) laboratory. It also advises engaging a professional transporter and customs agent. A Breeding Clearance Notification (BCN) must be lodged with Weatherbys for any temporary exports. 

Extra complications or changes to the current situation could arise with the implementation of the new EU Animal Health Law on April 21

Breeders weigh up options

Henri Bozo, whose French-based Ecurie des Monceaux regularly sends mares to stallions in Britain and Ireland, is not deterred by the new rules, though he admits they present extra challenges at a time when Covid is also a major concern. 

“Our mares that were due to foal early have already gone to England,” he said. “Otherwise they will go as usual and I have taken the decision to think we will be alright working with professional transporters who will make things, if not easier, then at least possible. I think it is important to try to do the best you can for the mating you have chosen.”

He added, “The feedback from our transporter is quite positive. We tend to bring the mares back to France when they are around 50 days in foal but this all creates a lot more trouble-there's more paperwork and it is time-consuming. There is already a difficult situation in the world but Brexit makes it even more difficult. It's very unfortunate but I want to try everything possible to keep our mating plans as they are.”

In contrast, Doug Procter of The Glanvilles Stud in England, who is also a regular cross-Channel traveller, is keeping his options open for his band of largely National Hunt broodmares. 

He said, “I tend to drop the mares off to a stud we use between Deauville and Lisieux and generally they are covered the next day and we bring them home when they are scanned in foal with a heartbeat, so my business needs to be authorised as a horse transporter.

“Of the mares that are going to France, the earliest is foaling in early February, so I am giving myself to early March to see how things are looking. It needs a bit of time. For example, we don't yet know what veterinary fees we will have to pay at Border Control Posts, and we are waiting to see whether there will be reciprocation for vehicles or driver qualifications and whether, as a British-based company, I will be able to be authorised to transport horses in the EU without actually having to create an EU subsidiary.”

Procter continued, “At some point I will have to take my horsebox over to Ireland to be inspected. I am keeping abreast of things but my policy is that I will let them sort things out during January and then decide what to do. If it's not feasible, or if it's looking too expensive, then this year I will have to change plans and cover all the mares in Britain.”

Waiting for answers

It seems certain that breeders who previously 'walked in' mares on a day trip to England or Ireland will no longer be able to do so given the time it will take once in the relevant country to receive an Export Health Certificate for the return journey. This is currently estimated to take five days.

Patrick Keane of major Irish horse transport firm Ballinroe has already seen a huge increase in paperwork for his office staff and also warns that the sales could form a pressure point for transporters. 

“The cost of transporting horses has doubled in the space of two weeks, with all the red tape and paperwork. For something that two weeks ago you were ringing the owner in Ireland and giving them a collection time and then you were ringing the stud in England to give them a delivery time, and that was all you had to do. Now you have to deal with four or five different people just to get your horse shipped,” he said. 

“I would hope it changes as the time it takes to move a horse could be a problem, especially when the sales are on. Tattersalls wouldn't have enough stables around Newmarket to keep them all once they are off the sales complex but while they are waiting for authorisation to travel. We try to move horses every night from the sales back to Ireland but the way it would work at the moment, if there was a sale in Newmarket today, we wouldn't be able to move them tonight.”

He continued, “There are animals here to be looked after—they are not cargo but they are being viewed at the moment as cargo. The health status of the English horses hasn't changed overnight but they are being bracketed as a third country.”

At present, Ballinroe has not sent a lorry to the UK since Jan. 1 as Keane and his colleagues await the correct authorisation.

“We have to have vehicle certification in the UK and it's looking like that won't happen until the end of January. We had a lorry come in to Ireland on the morning of 1 January and that was the last trip we made. We're just waiting for answers,” said Keane. “We have a tough road ahead at the moment.”

For any queries relating to this issue, an industry email helpline is available via [email protected].

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