The UK and EU finalised their Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) shortly before the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. Just over two months in, the 1,259-page document is still being digested and its effects are still surfacing.

The TCA sets out the new trading relationship between the UK and the EU, but is only part of the story. Prior to the negotiations on the TCA, the UK and EU had already agreed the Northern Ireland Protocol as part of the 2019 Withdrawal Agreement.

What is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

The Northern Ireland Protocol is a key part of the deal agreed between the UK and the EU and is intended to prevent a 'hard' border arising between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. To that end, the Protocol provides that Northern Ireland essentially remains in the EU single market for goods. The effect of this agreement is the creation of new hurdles that must be cleared when moving goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK - given that Great Britain is now outside the EU single market for all purposes. The flow of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland has therefore been affected in at least some of the same ways as trade between GB and the EU.

Barriers to animal movements

The TPA does not provide for the mutual recognition of sanitary and phytosanitary ("SPS") measures – essentially measures to protect human, plant and animal health. This was expected as the UK declined to commit to follow the EU's SPS rules going forward. The practical effect is that testing and certification is required before animals or goods of animal origin can enter the EU or Northern Ireland.

While an initial 'grace' period has been applied to the GB-NI movement of food by certain approved traders (e.g. supermarkets), live animal movements have been subject to these new rules since the start of the year. Animal health testing is therefore now a pre-requisite of any movement of animals from GB to NI and there are naturally costs associated with that. Animal blood testing has time and cost implications. There are also cost burdens associated with the completion of all the necessary paperwork, which professional hauliers are still navigating, as well as the risk of livestock hauliers being refused entry into Northern Ireland if paperwork is missing or incorrect.

What next?

The impact of COVID-19 has, unfortunately, eliminated or certainly reduced the number of livestock events this year. This has meant, however, that the transport hurdles imposed by the Northern Ireland Protocol have not caused as much difficulty as they might have otherwise. It is not too early, though, to give thought to how to navigate these challenges, while the UK and EU continue to discuss whether the process can become more streamlined. The start of lambing season for most this month is a timely reminder that the breeding sales will soon be upon us, and any restrictions on moving breeding animals will have an impact on the livestock sector.

These challenges with moving animals apply beyond livestock, to encompass pets and equines (and others) too. Where previously a trip to Ireland with animals would have been relatively simple, it will now bring additional regulation and cost. Those who may consider taking part in equestrian competition in warmer climates (and we are not necessarily talking about Ireland!) will face similar hurdles to taking their equines to the continent.


Ryan Bowie