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Addressing concerns about Brexit

Lord Gardiner reassured BVA members that the government is listening to the profession’s concerns over the outcome of Brexit negotiations

In a speech at the BVA’s annual congress on 17th November, the minister addressed each of the problems that veterinarians fear could arise if the government is unable to secure a satisfactory divorce settlement from its EU partners.

Junior Defra minister Lord Gardiner argued that Britain has made an important contribution to the development of EU rules in areas such as animal welfare and environmental protection, and it will not sacrifice the progress for short-term commercial benefits: “We are a nation that trades on a reputation for reliable, good quality and fairly priced products, and I think we have an opportunity to enhance this,” he said. “So we will not dilute our own high animal welfare and environmental standards in pursuit of a trade deal.”

He recognised that the veterinary profession plays a central role in maintaining that reputation and hinted that the government may consider returning veterinary surgeons to the shortage occupation list to ensure that the UK can retain and recruit vets from the EU and beyond.

“It is crucially important that we secure the status of the veterinary workforce as a priority as we leave the EU.”

Impact on Ireland

There are particular concerns for those members of the profession practising on each side of the Irish border. Northern Ireland’s chief veterinary officer, Robert Huey, said it was necessary for government to plan for any possible scenario. He calculated that without an agreement, there would be a need for another 100 vets to certify exports of animal-based products from the North, while any impediments to trade with the UK would also be very damaging for the Republic’s economy.

Lord Gardiner acknowledged the importance of the peace process in the North for people on both sides of the border and was optimistic that a deal would be struck soon. “Both sides are working night and day to ensure that these issues are resolved,” he said.

The profession’s response

Although London will no longer be the home of the European Medicines Agency, the UK will continue to observe its centralised medicines authorisation procedures. The government will also seek an agreement on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications. “We are not leaving Europe, we are merely leaving the institution of the EU. Our roots are in Europe and our interests will depend on continued collaboration and investment with those partners,” Lord Gardiner stated.

The minister said he had been grateful for the advice and support of the main veterinary bodies in the discussions to date: “Your resolute professionalism and positive attitude to change will help us to secure the best possible outcome for the veterinary profession and the animals and clients that you serve. You help maintain confidence in the brand so that consumers around the world will know that food exported from Britain is produced by animals that are well and properly looked after.” 

Lord Gardiner, a Buckinghamshire farmer with two veterinary surgeons among his family members, also showed that he had been well briefed on the issues affecting the small animal arm of the profession: “I commend the BVA for your work on animal welfare and particularly your campaign to counter the growth in numbers of brachycephalic dog and cat breeds, which may face a lifetime of compromised welfare due to their extreme conformation.”

He noted that the government has been active in promoting better welfare, recently updating its welfare code on the production of broiler chickens. It is also working on new welfare guidance for keepers of cats, dogs and horses. In addition, he was grateful for the profession’s scientific input in drawing up changes to the local authority animal licensing regimes for dog breeding, pet sales, animal boarding and riding establishments which would form the basis of new regulations to be laid before Parliament in the new year.