Brexit is coming and, inevitably, so is the deadline for the UK and the EU-27 to conclude the withdrawal agreement. On 17 October, the EU heads of State and Governments will meet in a European Council solely aimed at dealing with Brexit. Only after this meeting will it be decided whether conditions are met to plan an extra summit in November, to finalise the talks. Over the past months, the likeliness of a disorderly Brexit, in the absence of a deal, has strongly increased. In most post-Brexit scenarios, measures will have to be adopted to avoid a huge number of animals suffering due to increased bottlenecks at the borders. Eurogroup for Animals thus welcomes that EU Chief negotiator Michel Barnier has taken on board its proposal to work towards an EU-UK Common Veterinary Area.
The impact of Brexit, especially a disorderly one, will be felt at the borders. Thousands of live animals cross the UK-EU27 borders every day, and not only on the island of Ireland. In common with any type of products, live animals have to be checked at the border, which can lead to huge delays and to animals having to wait, often in poor conditions, for days. To better understand what is at stake, one can look at the border between Bulgaria and Turkey, where animals have to undergo all necessary checks and wait an average of six hours, most often without sufficient care and in horrendous conditions. The number of animals that could be crossing a UK-EU border is far higher and, at the moment, the existing infrastructure is not adequate to ensure the welfare of animals is respected during crossings.
Since its creation, the “Brexit and Animals” taskforce  has been vocal about the risks such “no deal” Brexit would entail for animals (see also this article). It is in this context that Eurogroup for Animals had informally raised the idea that the EU and the UK should consider a common veterinary area, on the model of what exists between Switzerland and the EU. The EU-Switzerland “single veterinary agreement” implies the equivalence, and thus a complete alignment, between the EU and Swiss rules and creates a joint mechanism to discuss arising issues. Veterinary checks at the border can thus be reduced and even eliminated.
It is thus a clear progress to hear Michel Barnier, the EU Chief negotiator for Brexit, mentioning the possibility of a future EU-UK veterinary area in a public speech he gave on 10 October 2018, explicitly referring to the aim of lowering veterinary checks between both partners.
Next week will be crucial for Brussels and London. Whatever the result of the most recent discussions, especially around the Irish border, it will be important to continue raising animal-related concern throughout the entire process, to ensure animal welfare standards are not – even de facto – lowered as a result.
 The Brexit & Animals Taskforce comprises 11 of the UK’s leading animal welfare organisations, working together to ensure that animal welfare is protected and, where possible, advanced as the UK withdraws from the European Union.
Stephanie Ghislain, Trade and Animal Welfare Project leader
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