Brexit is a reality, yet despite the fact that time is steadily passing, sometimes it seems like the truth of what is going to actually happen will never become clear. However, thanks to the focus created by deadlines, over the next 9 months, this is going to change. By the end of March 2019, the future of our relationship with Europe will have been clarified. The United Kingdom is due to leave the EU at midnight on 30 March 2019, but there is much to be negotiated before that date.
The British Veterinary Association has been vocal in expressing the concerns of the veterinary profession. They have stressed the primary goal: “Existing animal health, animal welfare, public health, veterinary medicines, workforce, and environmental protection standards must at least be maintained at the same level, or a level equivalent to current EU standards, while seizing the opportunity to improve standards in accordance with evidence-based risk analysis of animal health, welfare and ethics.” This type of statement is easy to make, but more difficult to put into practice.
The BVA has listed the four main issues that worry vets on the ground.
Workforce Perhaps the single biggest worry for vets has been the potential loss of non-UK EU veterinary graduates leading up to, and then following Brexit. RCVS figures (2015) show that 20 per cent of the UK veterinary workforce is made up of vets who graduated at EU universities outside the UK. In 2014, 43% of new registrants with the RCVS were from non-UK EU vet schools. Furthermore, EU nationals account for 22% of vets working in UK veterinary schools. The mutual recognition and licensing of veterinary degrees across Europe is one aspect, but the simpler issue of EU nationals being allowed to work in the UK is another.
Recent research by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has shown that one in five EU vets are now actively looking for work outside of the UK. At a time when it is already difficult for veterinary practices to find sufficient veterinary staff to stay in business, the loss of EU-sourced vets would be catastrophic. The BVA has written to the Home Office to express the urgency of the situation and it can only be hoped that this issue will soon be resolved.
Trade Post-Brexit, a raft of new trade deals are likely to control how the UK interacts with the reset of the world. From a veterinary perspective, it’s vital that these trade deals prioritise animal health, animal welfare, public health and access to veterinary medications. Again, the BVA has loudly and repeatedly informed government of the importance of these aspects of any new deals. As a practical example, it’s essential that vets have ongoing access to all existing and new veterinary medicines licensed through the EU and other regulatory systems, to avoid interruption of supply of essential medications.
Agriculture The future of the UK livestock production is intricately bound up with the veterinary profession, and the system depends entirely on what type of farm payment regime will replace the Common Agricultural Policy. But what will that be? The BVA has made it’s position clear but it has still not been stated exactly what will happen on the ground.
Animal health and welfare To date, the UK Government’s animal health and welfare policy has been enacted via EU legislation using either Directives or Regulations. A new draft Animal Welfare Bill has been discussed, but the details have still to be specified. Groups such as the RSPCA have been vocal in expressing the need for this to be as animal-friendly as possible. Again, time is running out for the necessary detail to be sorted out in time for the upcoming deadline.
Other areas of concern The EU has played a strong role in many other areas of life and these should not be forgotten. As an example, strong surveillance and rapid alert systems have been set up in a number of areas. Examples include surveillance of the use of antibiotics in animals (ESVAC), antibiotic resistance monitoring in animals and food (EFSA), and infectious transmissible diseases and a rapid food and feed alert system (RASFF) . It’s essential that the EU and UK continue to share data in the future, but until this has been agreed, nothing is guaranteed.
There are many other areas of the daily lives of vets in the UK that will be impacted by Brexit. The clock is ticking and time is running out. The UK may have voted for Brexit, but what does that actually mean, in the real world? Politicians, above all, need to take action now so that we can all plan for the new, post-Brexit, landscape.