Government recognises impact of Brexit on veterinary profession

02 December 2016

The Government recognises the “vital work” that UK and EU vets currently do, and will continue to do after the UK’s exit from the EU, but cautions that UK-based EU vets’ working rights can only be protected if reciprocal agreements can be guaranteed for British citizens living in EU member states, according to a letter from the Home Office to BVA and RCVS.

Six weeks ago, BVA and RCVS sent a joint letter to the Prime Minister outlining their concerns over how Brexit, and its impact on EU migration, may affect the veterinary profession.

The letter, from BVA President Gudrun Ravetz and RCVS President Chris Tufnell, highlighted that the UK veterinary profession is made up of over 26,000 veterinary surgeons and over 11,000 veterinary nurses, working to improve the health and welfare of animals, to monitor and control the spread of diseases, and to assure the safety of the food we eat. Each year around 50% of veterinary surgeons registering to practise in the UK are from overseas, with the vast majority coming from the EU.

The response from Robert Goodwill MP, as the Minister responsible for the key issues highlighted in the letter, emphasised:
“The Prime Minister has provided repeated reassurances that she wants to protect the working status of EU nationals already living in the UK, and the only circumstances in which that wouldn't be possible is if British citizens’ rights in other EU Member States were not protected in return.”

The RCVS has begun the process of commissioning detailed research into the impact that Brexit is having upon those working in the profession and the implications this could have for the veterinary workforce, with BVA gathering evidence from across the profession through its Brexit Working Group and its regular Voice of the Veterinary Profession surveys.

In his letter, the Immigration Minister went on to explain that the Government intend to reach an agreement on the status of EU nationals as soon as possible while also welcoming the input of BVA and RCVS into this important issue and the forthcoming RCVS and BVA research results.

BVA and RCVS are actively seeking vets’ views on Brexit through ongoing activities including a Vet Futures-led Breakfast on Brexit session at London Vet Show; a consultative meeting, held at RCVS with BVA input, on the impact on food safety and meat hygiene services; and a meeting, held by BVA in Belfast, focusing on the unique Northern Ireland context of a shared border with an EU member state in order to support the development of the veterinary profession’s priorities and positions to influence live negotiations around the UK’s exit from the EU.

The letter from the Immigration Minister ended on a personal note, recognising the work that EU vets carry out in the UK as a farmer himself.

BVA President Gudrun Ravetz said:
“As the Minister’s letter flags, there are still many unknown-unknowns when it comes to Brexit, which is why it’s vital that we continue to gather vets’ views and work closely with the RCVS, amongst others, to ensure that the voice of the veterinary profession is heard in Brexit negotiations and discussions. It’s encouraging that the Minister’s letter not only acknowledges the vital role vets play in official terms, but through his personal note as well. BVA has been, and will continue to raise the profession’s most pressing issues to Ministers and MPs in every government across the UK to ensure that we secure the best possible outcomes for our profession and for animal health and welfare.”

Chris Tufnell, President of the RCVS, said: 
“We are grateful for the reply from the Minister and appreciate his personal recognition of the contribution that EU-graduated vets make, particularly in the public health area. As an organisation we are still seeking to address the uncertainties around Brexit in order to take advantage of the opportunities it offers and mitigate its risks. As part of this we will be working with the BVA to try and secure the position of those EU-graduated veterinary surgeons working in the UK although, as the Minister states, this will form a part of wider government negotiations.”

Vets wishing to share their thoughts on the potential challenges and opportunities that Brexit presents are encouraged to contact their BVA regional representative, who will ensure their views are raised at BVA Council (7 December) or post on BVA’s community: What do you think Brexit could mean for the veterinary profession?

BVA Media Office