Robin Oakley

The turf | 6 July 2017

The whole industry depends on the free movement of stable staff – and horses

Having spent three quarters of my life covering politics and the other quarter following racing, I am often asked what the two have in common. One answer is that politicians are often gamblers. David Cameron tried to solve his party’s divisions over Europe by launching the Brexit referendum and failed spectacularly when an irritated electorate overturned the odds. Despite having a workable majority, Theresa May bet the Tory farm on a snap election seeking to increase it and she, too, lost on an apparent certainty. Playing party political games with the nation’s future, neither deserved any better. Certainly, I find few in racing who believe that Brexit, especially May’s beloved ‘hard Brexit’, is going to help them. Racing’s continual staffing crisis has been eased a little of late by the number of Europeans taking jobs in UK training establishments: if, with the looming end of free movement, European stable staff follow EU nurses and head elsewhere, many yards will be scratching around desperately for grooms and work riders. And what about the free movement of horses? David Davis and his Dexeu negotiators aren’t within a million miles of understanding the complexities to come.

The Racing Post points out that there are some 10,000 horse movements a year between England and Ireland alone of animals being shifted to race or breed. In a hard-Brexit world, with no single market or customs union, those movements will require veterinary health checks and temporary-admission documentation. Imports will have to be processed through Border Inspection Posts, and of the UK’s existing 24 Border Inspection Posts only three, the airports at Heathrow, Gatwick and Prestwick, are approved to import horses. Would you want to be risking money on a horse that had been 48 hours queuing in a horsebox due to ‘temporary staff shortages at the border post’?

The only sensible response to such dreary preoccupations was to put my own betting boots on and take myself to Windsor on Saturday.

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