Irish Sea border: Officials believe 'nothing will change' as a result of deal accepted by the DUP says Co Fermanagh horse trader who insists 'we do not have free trade with GB'

General view of Belfast harbour on January 30, 2021General view of Belfast harbour on January 30, 2021
General view of Belfast harbour on January 30, 2021
A businessman in the livestock trade has said that not only does the Irish Sea border exist, but he expects it to harden in the weeks ahead despite "Jeffrey's deal".

Felim Crane said that just days ago an official laughed at the idea that things will change for the better as a result of the government's agreement with the DUP.

He is "so glad to see Stormont up and running," but said that the publicly-touted basis for its restoration is simply "incorrect".

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The DUP has responded by saying that some checks have always existed on livestock, but asked Mr Crane to get in touch so it can raise his concerns with the government.

General image of a horse in a horsebox (from Swindon, December 8, 2013, Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)General image of a horse in a horsebox (from Swindon, December 8, 2013, Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
General image of a horse in a horsebox (from Swindon, December 8, 2013, Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Mr Crane works at Luke Barton Horses and Ponies in Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh.

The firm buys and sells animals, and 36-year-old Mr Crane routinely ferries them himself to buyers in Great Britain.

Since the Protocol kicked in, animals and their associated paperwork have had to be checked before boarding an NI-to-GB ferry, he said, whereas before there was essentially "nothing".

But it is worse going from GB-to-NI, he said.

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For instance, he often used to buy horses in Great Britain for the return journey, but this is now hampered by some major red tape.

They must pay for GB horses' blood to be tested (at a cost of about £49 per animal) and also get a vet to do an overall check of the animals (something which is meant to be paid for by the government, although some vets have tried to demand the £500 fee directly from Mr Crane).

"It has been a complete and utter disaster," he said.

"80% of our business is done with the UK. We've sold animals to Italy and France and you need the same stuff to go to Italy and France as you do to come back from Scotland or England.

"There is a border in the Irish Sea. I do not have free trade with England, Scotland, and Wales."

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On one occasion he took two horses to Scotland, handed them over to the buyer at Cairnryan, and boarded the boat back home with an empty horsebox.

Upon arrival in Belfast the empty trailer was inspected by DAERA, and Mr Crane said a huge “hanlin” (fuss or hassle) was made because it was found to contain horse manure.

Turning to the Tory deal with the DUP, Mr Crane said: "I haven't sat down and looked at the deal, but I spoke to the DAERA people on Friday night at the port."

Mr Crane said that he had asked: "Tell me – what's Jeffrey's deal going to do for us?"

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In response they "started laughing" and Mr Crane was told: "Nothing is changing."

It was explained to him that "over the next six or eight weeks", if he arrives at the port with more than one horse, he will need to supply something called a WIT number.

But several months earlier his firm had been told by somebody else in DAERA that they would not need a WIT number.

"I explained this on Friday night," Mr Crane said, but he got the reply: "I am telling you now – it will come in overnight in six or eight weeks. If you do not have a WIT number, you will not get on board – you will not leave the country."

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A DUP spokesman said: “There have always been checks on livestock movements between GB and NI, even when the UK was part of the EU.

"This is as much about protecting the bio-security of NI livestock as it is anything else.

“The new arrangements that restore Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market are not yet fully in place, but if Mr Crane can send us the details, we will raise his concerns and explore these matters with the government.”

When the Northern Ireland Office was contacted, a government spokesperson said “there have been no changes to current processes for the movement of horses” both from GB to NI and vice-versa as a result of the deal with the DUP.

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They added: "There have always been unique arrangements for Northern Ireland on live animals – for example WIT numbers have been required in Northern Ireland since 2018.

“We have consistently responded to the sector’s support for continued access to GB and EU markets and the Windsor Framework addresses this.

"We have also minimised requirements for NI registered horses moving between NI and GB and are providing further financial support through the Defra Movement Assistance Scheme."