In one year’s time the UK will have left the EU. It is still not clear what the terms of our exit will be but whatever the outcome it is clear that leaving the EU will have a profound impact on the British countryside.
Shooting is not immune from the winds of change which Brexit could bring and it is vital that the interests of the 600,000 people who shoot in this country are considered as part of our new relationship with Europe.
This is not purely self-interest. Shooting is worth more than £2bn to the UK economy and supports the equivalent of 74,000 full time jobs, many of which are in some of our most rural areas. Promoting the interests of shooting in these negotiations is important for rural communities in the UK and Europe which is something I raised in talks between the Countryside Alliance and the Brexit Minister, Lord Callanan, earlier this month.
As trade talks continue, neither side should forget that the majority of shotguns, rifles and ammunition used in this country are imported from countries within the EU, particularly Spain and Italy. Introducing tariffs on these goods could increase the cost of shooting and harm manufacturers in Europe. However, the biggest concern for most importers is the potential for additional bureaucracy which could disrupt the supply chain and add far more to costs than the introduction of World Trade Organisation tariffs, which are only around 3 per cent on firearms and ammunition. Many of our domestic gun makers rely on component parts from countries within the EU so it would be beneficial for everyone if these good trading relationships were able to continue post Brexit.
The majority of driven shoots rely on reared birds, and many import gamebird eggs or chicks from countries within the EU, particularly France and Spain where the milder weather permits a longer rearing season. A significant proportion of pheasants and partridges that are reared and released in this country come from eggs or chicks imported from Europe. It is vital that negotiations with the EU are not used to advance an anti-shooting agenda by restricting the movement of gamebirds, as some animal rights groups are already calling for.
As well as Europe being an important import market for firearms and gamebirds, it is also an important export market for game meat. There is a growing market for game meat in this country but British game meat is also enjoyed in Europe, and this must not face barriers post Brexit. Game meat should also be promoted in new trade deals with non-EU countries in order to develop markets around the world for our high quality produce.
Many rural communities will know the benefit of country sports tourism, particularly in the winter months when income from other forms of tourism declines. Visitors from countries within the EU are an important part of this market and it is essential that country sports in the UK remain easily accessible to people from Europe post-Brexit. This means maintaining visa-free travel for leisure trips and continuing to recognise the European Firearms Pass (EFP) which has greatly eased the process of travelling with firearms across Europe. This also helps UK citizens travelling with firearms to take part in sporting holidays on the continent.
A large amount of regulation currently comes from the EU. We need clarity on what will apply post Brexit and the degree of divergence that might be possible, particularly in the area of lead ammunition. The UK Government has stated that no further restrictions are required on lead ammunition following Defra’s response to the Lead Ammunition Group report in July 2016. However, there is still a risk that further restrictions might be issued by the European Chemicals Agency which is carrying out a review of lead ammunition.
Regardless of our future relationship with the EU, any further restrictions on lead ammunition in Europe will have an impact on shooting in this country. Stricter rules on lead in Europe could disrupt our trading relationship with the continent and increase the political pressure for a ban in this country.
For as long as we remain a member of the EU, or have to comply with EU regulations, our government must resist any unscientific attempts to further restrict the use of lead.
There are many opportunities from leaving the EU, not least the chance to return many aspects of regulation to the UK. However, it is clearly in our interest to maintain a close trading relationship with the EU and this must include free and frictionless trade in areas associated with shooting, as well as maintaining mutually beneficial opportunities for country sports tourism. British and European shooters must maintain and build on our close relationship.
James Somerville-Meikle is Political Relations Manager at the Countryside Alliance