“The equine business is being killed by Brexit,” Olympic gold medal-winning rider Nick Skelton told me last week. “It’s been catastrophic as far as the movement of horses to and from Europe is concerned.”
What the Government now has to decide is whether it stands by and watches equine industries such as show jumping and racing being wiped out, as trade moves to a more frictionless continental Europe; considering it collateral damage on the road to a brave new world. Or whether it takes the view that allowing an endeavour that is at the heart of our culture and heritage to perish is an unacceptable “bump in the road” that can and should be prevented.
But given that its attitude to farming appears to be that we can buy food from abroad, I suspect the equine world is going to get thrown under the bus.
If the Government thinks the cries for help that it appears to be turning a deaf ear to are bluff and bluster, it should consider the case of Skelton. He used to train 60 horses from around Europe in Warwickshire. He has now had to move that operation to Holland, because the hassle and expense of moving horses across the Channel has tipped his clients over the edge.
“No one wants to come here anymore. It’s easier to just stay on the continent,” he sanguinely observes.
Horse racing is facing a similar problem. If a trainer wants to run a horse in France, the lorry transporting it is not allowed on to the ferry until it has an appointment with a French inspection vet in Calais or Caen.
And surprise, surprise, their vets work only hours that are unsuitable as far as giving a horse a smooth passage. And the wait in Calais can still be for hours, even with an appointment.
“I’ve hardly had any runners in France this year,” John Gosden, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe-winning trainer bemoaned. “Just not fair on the horses.”
Others point out that the cost of processing onerous pages of forms has doubled. All of which means top racehorses are more likely to be sent to France or Ireland to be trained than the UK.
Of course, the French authorities know exactly what they are doing, and are using this as an opportunity to create a commercial advantage.
Horses are also subject to VAT when they move in and out of Europe, which is a lose, lose for their owners. Either a carnet, which can cost up to £1,000, can be purchased to waiver the payment of the tax if the horse is due to return to its residing country. Or the VAT has to be paid and reclaimed. Unsurprisingly the European authorities are much better at taking the tax than they are at repaying it.
What is needed right now is for the Government to step in and cover the short-term financial disadvantage that the French and Brexit have caused, to keep our equine industries alive.
If they do not, there will be an exodus of trade and jobs to the continent. Perhaps this is something the Prime Minister could discuss with the Queen the next time they have a chat.
Food for thought
The board of the British Horseracing Authority may be regretting throwing a dinner for Maggie Carver, the outgoing chairman of the Racecourse Association, who not only sat on its board – so got a good look at it in action close up – but also happens to be the interim chairman of Ofcom.
Carver, I hear, delivered such an unprecedentedly brutal speech that Annamarie Phelps, the chairman of the BHA, apparently emailed everyone attending the dinner the next morning asking if they needed counselling.
Carver did not hold back, it seems. She allegedly told the board that most of them had been recruited to regulate and were ill qualified to make commercial decisions. The BHA executives were not spared either. She described them as being arrogant, profligate, incapable of finishing projects and obsessed with power.
While this is clearly Carver’s personal opinion and not one necessarily shared by the Racecourse Association, it does further raise the stakes as to whether a total restructuring of the way racing is run in this country should be carried out.