Brexit paperwork interferes with the transportation of racehorses into England

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Before the cart, or even the horse, comes something else to put first: the Brexit paperwork.
That’s what transporters outside the UK are dealing with as they move racehorses into England for this week’s Cheltenham Festival, among the richest sweepstakes in Europe, after more border requirements started taking effect at the end of January.
The additional UK customs rules mean shipping services must complete extra electronic documentation before the cargo arrives at ports. Without it, some of the world’s most sought-after horses — many of them from Ireland — would face issues crossing the sea for the nearly £5 million ($6.4 million) bonanza held in Gloucestershire.
“It’s a lot of extra work — unnecessary work,” said Patrick Keane, director of Ballinroe International Horse Transport, one of the largest horse carriers across the UK and Ireland. “That causes a lot of extra time when we’re busy.”
As the four-day gathering binds both countries around their love of thoroughbreds starting Tuesday and culminating with the Cheltenham Gold Cup race on Friday, the bureaucratic hurdles introduced six weeks ago are another reminder of the barriers Brexit erected between the UK and its closest neighbor.
The rules, designed to protect British borders after the country’s break from the European Union, are increasing friction for businesses where there once was little. A draft model was published in April 2023 to give traders time to prepare.
And it’s not just the horse industry that’s saddled with the burden. Imports globally, particularly plant and animal goods, must adhere to the so-called Border Target Operating Model, which has a 140-page explainer on the UK government’s website.
Business group Logistics UK has complained about some confusion that its implementation has caused.
“The government has been taking an educational approach to enforcement and, as such, there is not an entirely clear picture as to UK and EU readiness or compliance,” said Nichola Mallon, head of trade and devolved policy at Logistics UK, which represents companies across supply chains.
The extra regulations so far involve generating a travel reference and registering for the UK customs system. Although those are relatively light changes, there are further rules yet to be rolled out.
Mallon said the introduction of physical checks for sanitary and phytosanitary goods from the EU starting April 30, except for at west coast ports, “will have a considerable impact.”
SPS checks at west coast ports will come into effect from October, while safety and security declarations will be required for most EU goods with a reduced dataset then too, according to the explainer.
The first stage of implementation has been delivered as planned, a government spokesperson said, adding that the changes help keep the UK safe while protecting food supply chains and the agricultural sector from disease outbreaks that would cause significant economic harm.
Ireland had already implemented customs requirements for goods entering the country from Great Britain.
For racehorses, the current rules will add roughly 10 extra minutes to preparing each shipment destined for Great Britain, according to Keane, who has increased his office staff to seven, from three prior to Brexit. The Irish transport company expects to send an additional five or six shipments across the water for Cheltenham.
About 240 Irish mounts are expected to attend the festival, according to governing body Horse Racing Ireland. That’s likely to be more than half of the runners at the event.
Royal Favorite
If history is any guide, the Irish imports will be favorites to win most of the top races, which were once watched by the late Queen Elizabeth II – herself an avid rider from childhood.
Participants are largely prepared for the extra obstacles, including Willie Mullins, the most successful trainer in the history of the festival. His transport provider, George Mullins Transport, had already implemented the extra requirements, because they knew they were coming.
The new rules “add a little more red tape but nothing insurmountable,” Mullins said. Now that they have come into force, it’s become second nature, he said at his stables in County Carlow, Ireland, as the team had sent horses to Great Britain in practice runs before the big event.
Parties on both sides have spoken, he added, and there is a sense of pragmatism to making logistics work.

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