T2. Mrs Barton asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, given that Great Britain is opening up to receive visitors and tourists and the fact that the holiday period is coming, whether the current mitigation for the vaccination of pets will be extended beyond June and into July and August to allow people from Northern Ireland who wish to travel with their pets to enter into and return from GB. (AQT 1162/17-22)
I thank the Member for her question. I welcome the fact that the mitigation was introduced in January and gave us those six months. I was not looking for six months to allow us time to prepare, although some people were; I was looking for six months to negotiate away the nonsense of pets having to be treated for conditions that do not exist in the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland. The British Isles is free from those diseases; therefore, we are imposing on pets and animals something that is not required. It is a medicinal practice that they do not need, and we have to resist it as firmly and as strongly as possible. That is what I am doing.
Again, we have a significant problem with the importation of cattle and sheep. As a consequence, a large number of blackface sheep — blackface sheep in particular but not exclusively — are in Scotland. They were bought in September, and the farmers cannot get them home. The EU has been rigid about that thus far in spite of our requests. We need to get some flexibility. There are farmers in the Antrim hills, the Sperrins, the Mournes and so forth who have invested heavily and are not getting their animals brought home.
As well as that, the pedigree industry has been badly affected. Previously, farmers were taking bulls and heifers to Scotland and, indeed, to the north of England for some of the large sales. Because of the six-month standstill, they are not prepared to take that risk because, if they do not sell the animals, how can they ensure their welfare in how they are treated on a farm in Scotland or England? They are high-value animals. It will be devastating for the pedigree industry in Northern Ireland if the issue is not resolved. It is a ludicrous issue in terms of securing the single market. It has no impact whatever on the single market, and the European Union needs to back down on it, wise up and treat Northern Ireland with a degree of respect.