Five years on from the Brexit vote, there is one group whose right to smooth travel to EU countries from the UK has been overlooked, according to a shadow minister: pigeons.
New post-Brexit conditions stopping cross-Channel pigeon races unless the birds have the necessary paperwork must be overturned, the government has been told.
John Healey, the Labour MP for Wentworth and Dearne in South Yorkshire, is battling on behalf of pigeon fanciers. He has written twice to George Eustice, the environment secretary, after concerns were raised that the traditional races would no longer be able to take place under the new rules.
In the races, which Healey says have taken place for 100 years, homing pigeons are released in France and have to make the trip across the Channel – ranging from 21 miles to 120 depending on their starting point – and back to their owners.
Mick McGrevy, 73, keeps about 100 pigeons near his home in Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire. McGrevy has owned pigeons since he was 12 and is the former chairman of the National Flying Club, which organises races from France and Spain.
“It’s more than a hobby, it’s a way of life,” said McGrevy of the male-dominated sport. “It’s something you do all day long, day in, day out. It can cause quite a bit of friction between the fanciers and the wives, unless the wives choose to get involved of course.”
Healey said the issue should have been ironed out during Brexit negotiations, and now needs an agreement with the EU. He said has had no reply from the government. “Owners appreciate the need for stringent regulations for movement into the EU but these birds are low risk and are not being imported, only transported then released”, he said.
The rules, which would require pigeons to be in the EU for 21 days before racing, as well as a health certificate signed by a vet, are due to come into effect in October following an EU-agreed extension to the transitional period for the new animal health regulations.
The Royal Pigeon Racing Association has been lobbying to change the regulations, arguing they make it impossible to move racing pigeons into France and other EU member states. Member states can apply their own national rules and France continues to require an animal health certificate, although it may allow pigeons into Cherbourg, St Malo or Caen-Ouistreham without the need for quarantine.
Healey writes that the pigeon-racing community would like an amendment to the rules allowing for a temporary “import” of pigeons that are then released to fly back to the UK. He described this as a “non-commercial process that has happened for 100 years without any negative impact on health”.
Animal rights organisations such as PETA have argued that cross-Channel pigeon racing is cruel and results in the loss or death of hundreds of birds.
A government spokesperson said: “The EU Commission has recently agreed to allow consignments of racing pigeons from Great Britain to continue to enter the EU and Northern Ireland as they did before the new EU animal health regulation rules applied. After 20 October, however, consignments must meet the EU’s import requirements and be accompanied by the appropriate export health certificate.”