Brexit deal may mean Border checks for pets, UK parliament told
Any new restrictions on travel ‘will apply to pet dogs and cats’ as well as livestock, says vet
Border checks under Brexit could apply to ‘people taking their dog for the weekend to Donegal’. Photograph: Getty/iStock
Border checks will be needed in Ireland regardless of whether or not Britain strikes a deal with the EU before leaving the bloc next year because of the dangers involved in transporting animals, the House of Commons has heard.
And any new restrictions on livestock moving between the Republic and the North would also have to apply to pet dogs and cats as well as horses, said Simon Doherty, junior vice president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA).
Mr Doherty told MPs at Westminster that a proportion of lorries will have to be stopped and inspected by veterinarians even in the event of a so-called soft Brexit.
Compounding the problem, there is already a scarcity of qualified vets in the North and new arrangements will require hundreds more, he told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.
“This is something I know for a fact is exercising the Northern Ireland Chief Veterinary Office [Robert Huey] at this time — where these people might come from, ” said Mr Doherty.
The former president of the North of Ireland Veterinary Association said current EU legislation on combating the spread of animal and plant disease is based on absolute free movement between member states.
Outside that arrangement, regardless of any customs deal, a “risk-based proportion of lorries will be stopped at the Border to be checked”.
Mr Doherty added: “We are anticipating that there will be some level of checks required [at the Border], even if there is a deal.”
Lady Sylvia Hermon, the North’s only anti-Brexit unionist MP, described the scenario as a “non-frictionless border”.
Mr Doherty added that checks could also apply to “people taking their dog for the weekend to Donegal.”
“Technically at the minute there is an agreement between Dublin and Belfast for reasonably free movement — you can take your cat or dog to Donegal for the weekend,” he told The Irish Times after the committee hearing.
“But technically, for the animal to cross the Border it ought to have a pet passport. There is a risk-based pragmatic approach taken at the minute," he said. In the view of some, pragmatism equals a blind eye.
“If there are to be sanitary and phytosanitary (plant disease control) arrangements for livestock, it is not actually any different for horses or companion animals, in terms of different animal health statuses and arrangements for disease surveillance.”
Mr Doherty said any new arrangements on the movement of farm animals across the Border would equally impact on the “horse coming up from the Curragh to race at Downpatrick and vice versa” as well as other equine sports and pets.
“It is not the BVA’s position to start making a big fuss about people taking their dogs to Donegal at the weekend, absolutely not,” he said.
“But the point is we need to remember those animals when we are thinking about the bio-security of the country — both from the north to the south and from the south to the north.”
On the scarcity of vets to carry out border checks, he told the committee there are presently around 150 at the North’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and they “could be looking for a couple of hundred more” within a very short period of time.
An added concern, is uncertainty over new registrants to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, which he said is “currently largely supplied from the EU”, at a time when a question mark hangs over their freedom of movement.
“At the minute, Northern Ireland is the only region in the UK which doesn’t have a veterinary school, so we are not producing our own vets,” he said.
“Even if a new vet school opened, if we had an Assembly to make a decision on that, there is still going to be a seven or eight year delay on those graduates coming through.”