A comprehensive report into Defra’s Brexit preparations by the National Audit Office (NAO) claims that Defra has been prevented from consulting with the veterinary profession over the shortage of vets by DExEU.
The report, Progress in implementing EU Exit, states that Defra is one of the government departments most affected by EU Exit and looks in detail at four of Defra’s main workstreams, including ‘import of animals and animal products’ and ‘exports of animals and animal products’.
The report notes that in a no-deal scenario there will be a significant increase in certificates needing to be processed by veterinary surgeons. It states: “Without enough vets, consignments of food could be delayed at the border or prevented from leaving the UK. Defra intended to start engaging with the veterinary industry in April 2018, but has not been permitted to do so and now plans to launch an emergency recruitment campaign in October to at least meet minimum levels of vets required. It plans to meet any remaining gaps through the use of non-veterinarians to check records and processes that do not require veterinary judgement.”
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has previously outlined concerns about the potential for diluting veterinary certification. BVA is calling on the Government to fully engage with the veterinary profession before making any changes that could impact the UK’s ability to trade animal products safely and in line with high animal welfare standards.
Commenting, BVA President John Fishwick said:
“The NAO report is deeply concerning. It suggests that Defra has been working hard to prepare for EU Exit with one hand tied behind its back by DExEU.
“Changes to veterinary certification could have serious consequences for the UK’s ability to trade animal products, which could have a devastating impact on our agricultural industries. Our trading partners across the globe rely on the quality assurance provided by veterinary surgeons, and any proposals must be open for wide consultation.”
The NAO report also states: “there is a high risk that Defra will be unable to deliver all the Statutory Instruments (SIs) it needs in time and it is identifying those that it needs to prioritise…. In June 2018, Defra’s legislation team reported to the Programme Board that ‘Defra is at a high risk of being unable to deliver a full and functioning statute book by end March 2019’ and in July 2018 its secondary legislation programme was rated as red.”
Mr Fishwick added:
“The Government has pledged to ensure that standards of animal health and welfare will be maintained or strengthened after we leave the EU. It is imperative that existing legislation derived from the EU is on our statute books before next March, otherwise we risk compromising our reputation for high animal health and welfare standards.”