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Irish minister highlights Brexit threat to Cheltenham Festival

An Irish government minister has stated a solution must be found to allow the continued free movement of horses after Brexit to protect events like the Cheltenham Festival.

Michael Creed, Ireland's minister for agriculture, food and the marine, was among politicians to meet racing leaders from across Europe at Cheltenham on Friday for informal talks about the issue.

Michael Gove, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, has also been involved in discussions.

The tripartite agreement between Britain, Ireland and France, which allows free movement of horses for racing and breeding ends after Brexit and there is concern in all three countries that the industries there could be damaged.

Earlier this month BHA chief executive Nick Rust told the National Equine Forum that there needed to be a level playing field in the way the sport is regulated between the three countries in order to help maintain free movement of horses after Brexit, otherwise there was "the very real possibility of border controls".

Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh and his France Galop counterpart Olivier Delloye were among those meeting with British racing industry leaders as well as Creed and Phil Hogan, the European commissioner for agriculture and rural development.

Creed said that the issue was on his mind "almost every waking moment".

He added: "I had a very good engagement with my UK counterpart Michael Gove and one of the topics that was on the agenda was the existing tripartite agreement between the UK, Ireland and France and how we might engineer a successor to that to make sure that nothing interferes with the likes of what we have at Cheltenham.

"We need to make sure we have a successor to the tripartite agreement."

Creed acknowledged that it was a complex issue.

He went on: "It's not going to be easy, there's no point in saying otherwise, but I think where there's a will there's a way. It's essential that we find a solution to this issue."

Asked whether the general situation over Brexit was a "mess" Creed did betray some frustration as he answered: "Not of my making."

Hogan said he was conscious of the economic contribution the racing and breeding industries made in France, the UK and Ireland and that the racing authorities in the three countries had asked for something similar to the tripartite agreement to be put in its place.

He added: "This is all tied up with what the future relationship will be with the UK and the European Union, but there have been a number of meetings to make sure that everybody is aware of the issue in the first instance.

"Then if we can get the animal health regime broadly in line with what we have today it will be a good start towards trying to resolve this issue which is important for the free movement of animals."

Hogan said leading figures at the top of the EU and British government were awake to the matter.

"The Task Force 50 that is under the stewardship of Michel Barnier in Brussels is aware of the issue and I as commissioner am very aware of the issue and I'm very keen to help," he said.

"I've spoken to secretary Gove about it this week, he raised this issue with me and I think it's very good that he was prepared to raise it.

"A festival meeting like Cheltenham, like many other festival meetings in the UK, Ireland and France, is a clear demonstration to everybody of what contribution racing making to economic activity in rural areas and jobs."

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