Bringing vets and VNs together for a Brexit roundtable

Posted on March 02, 2017 by Sally Burnell

Since we all woke up on 24 June (which happened to be my birthday!) to the news about the EU referendum, everyone at BVA has been considering the impact Brexit will have on our members, on animal health and welfare, on public health, and on the wider medical and scientific communities.

From the outset BVA and RCVS have collaborated to share knowledge and ideas and to ensure we don’t duplicate effort unnecessarily. We acknowledge that we may have different priorities but that there are significant areas of overlap. And crucially, we know that the government – facing its most complex task ever – doesn’t want to hear from umpteen different voices, but wants to hear one clear and well informed voice from the veterinary profession.

With that in mind RCVS and BVA organised a Brexit roundtable at the Houses of Parliament last Friday (24 February) with the aim of bringing as many of the profession’s representative bodies together, alongside representatives from BVNA and VN Council, Defra and the major employers’ group, to share our thinking and check that the direction of travel is the right one.

Grand Committee Room, Brexit Roundatable

The meeting took place in the Grand Committee Room. This is the room where MPs hold ‘Westminster Hall’ debates and it has an imposing sense of grandeur, which felt appropriate for such an important topic.

RCVS President Chris Tufnell and BVA SVP Sean Wensley opened the meeting with short presentations on activity to date and an update on current thinking (see Sean's presentation). Chris outlined the RCVS draft principles which will go to RCVS Council in March, and Sean reminded members of the BVA principles (143 KB PDF) agreed in September and updated on the developing thinking and emerging themes from the BVA Brexit Working Group.

RCVS President Chris Tufnell speaking at Brexit Roundtable
RCVS President Chris Tufnell
BVA Senior Vice President Sean Wensley speaking at Brexit Roundtable
BVA Senior Vice President Sean Wensley

Then the floor was open to representatives from specialist divisions, BVNA, and the major employers group. Each representative had the opportunity to comment on what they had heard from BVA and RCVS and to express their particular areas of interest.

Raising concerns about workforce, pet travel and medicines

It was immediately clear that there remains a significant concern across many parts of the profession, including students, around workforce issues. It is deeply frustrating that the government has made warm comments but stopped short of offering the reassurance we have been calling for repeatedly. RCVS is leading a substantial piece of research with EU-graduated vets to better understand the immediate and longer-term impact of the UK’s exit from the EU on different areas of veterinary work and gather evidence to support future lobbying positions. This research will be critical in informing our ongoing work.

Input from the divisions also re-iterated some issues that are of specific interest to certain members of the profession, for example: an opportunity to reintroduce preventive treatments in pet travel; the future recognition of European diplomas; the movement of animals, semen and embryos under the Balai Directive; and the availability of medicines for minor species.

Brexit roundtable panel

Overall, there was a lot of support for the principles outlined by BVA and RCVS but also some challenge, for example one representative cautioned against going too far on animal welfare issues and “gold plating” UK standards in a way that makes UK industry less competitive and potentially exports animal welfare problems. These are important areas to understand as we work towards our final lobbying paper to be considered at BVA Council in April. Watch this space!

Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens and Deputy CVO Graeme Cooke also attended the roundtable. Nigel felt that the messages from BVA and RCVS to date chimed with the government’s desire to get the best out of Brexit. However, he cautioned against trying to hold onto everything and advised us to really focus on what the veterinary profession can do. This opened up a broader discussion around the potential future need for a new Veterinary Surgeons Act, or “Veterinary Services Act” and this is something we will all need to think about.

The point was made that we shouldn’t rush into new legislation but that we should take time to consider whether we want new legislation and what we would want from it. Given the fact that the government will need to systematically review all legislation post-Brexit, we may have a bit of time to think!

To find out more about BVA’s Brexit activity

Sally Burnell

Written by Sally Burnell

BVA Director of Policy, Media and Strategy

Sally joined BVA in 2009 as head of media with a background in charity communications and politics, having worked in Westminster, the Welsh Assembly, and in local government. Sally became Director of Policy, Media and Strategy in 2014 and works with the team to make sure BVA is a strong voice for vets.