Peers, MPs and leading vets gathered at the House of Commons to discuss animal health, animal welfare, public health and veterinary workforce issues at a Brexit briefing by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) last Tuesday (27 June).
The briefing, held less than three weeks after the General Election, highlighted to members of both Houses the vital role the veterinary profession plays in order to ensure that the veterinary resource in clinical practice, public health, government services, academia and research is appropriately considered and effectively used during Brexit negotiations.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), environment spokespeople for the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru, and other parliamentarians from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the SNP, joined Crossbenchers, senior civil servants and key stakeholders at the event.
The BVA President delivered a short speech highlighting the key asks from BVA’s ‘Brexit and the veterinary profession’ report, which was developed through extensive consultation with BVA members, devolved branches, BVA specialist divisions and other key stakeholders. The report sets out 52 recommendations for the short, medium and long term across seven far-reaching areas of public policy: veterinary workforce, animal health, animal welfare, food hygiene and safety, veterinary medicines, research and development, and trade.
Addressing attendees at the Brexit briefing, BVA President Gudrun Ravetz said:
“We are a relatively small profession, but we are a diverse profession with far-reaching influence and impact in so many areas of political and public life. Last week, we were delighted to hear the Defra Secretary of State, speaking to the Today programme, rightly acknowledged the importance of EU vets to the UK economy; from food hygiene and safety, to monitoring disease outbreaks and facilitating trade. This is why BVA is calling on the Government to guarantee the working rights for non-UK EU vets and vet nurses currently working and studying in the UK at the existing level and with no time limit.
“As we progress with the Repeal Bill we are also calling on the Government to ensure we maintain animal health and welfare current standards – and prioritise them in all trade negotiations, so that high standards of animal health, welfare and food hygiene are a unique selling point for the UK. We can only make a success of Brexit if we harness our veterinary resource.”
In his speech, RCVS Junior Vice-President Professor Stephen May highlighted the three RCVS Brexit Principles as well as the findings from the College’s recent survey of non-UK EU vets working in the UK. Professor May also made a call for greater certainty from the Government on the status of EU citizens living and working as veterinary surgeons in the UK and for a substantial transition period to prevent potential veterinary workforce shortages, particularly in areas such as public health and food safety.
Professor May said:
“Negotiations with our European partners will no doubt be lengthy and complex on all manner of issues that affect the veterinary sector. For everyone concerned, we join other voices in calling for a substantial transition period to any new order created. This will provide us with time to take stock, to understand the implications and to navigate a pathway that safeguards the interests of our sector and the RCVS is determined to work with all its stakeholders, in particular Government and yourselves [parliamentarians], to ensure that vital veterinary work gets done.
“Key to this will be meeting the need for high-quality, capable veterinary surgeons in all sectors. This can only be achieved in the short-term by emphasising the continued welcome and appreciation of all veterinary non-UK nationals working hard for this country, to encourage them to stay, and continued access to graduates of accredited schools from around the world, alongside increased training of UK nationals to meet our ever expanding veterinary needs.”
The event was hosted by BVA Honorary Member and RCVS Past-President, Lord Trees MRCVS, who has sat on a number of House of Lords committees and subcommittees that consider and seek to influence the Government’s plans and policy-making during the UK’s exit from the EU. Lord Trees closed the BVA and RCVS Brexit briefing by encouraging fellow Peers and MPs to capitalise on the evidence-based, science-led perspective that the veterinary profession is able to provide, particularly as Brexit discussions continue to develop.
Lord Gardiner has since publicly recognised the vital role of the veterinary profession, responding to a question in the House of Lords regarding the retention of skilled workers post-Brexit. In his role as Defra Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Lord Gardiner said:
“I am most grateful to the noble Lord [Teverson] because I was at the BVA and RCVS reception yesterday, where I know a number of noble Lords were also in attendance. This is an important issue and an element of the negotiations that we want to deal with as promptly as possible. Yes, we do rely on and warmly welcome the support we have from EU national vets, who are hugely important to us.”