Twitter LinkedIn

Brexit: Turning words into action for animal welfare

In impassioned conversations and speeches taking place in the halls and corridors of Party conferences, the word on every politician’s lips is of course ‘Brexit’. What will it mean for the economy, for jobs, for immigration, for trade? How will it redefine the UK on the global stage in a multitude of different ways? There is much at stake, and industry and advocacy groups are vying for political traction to get the right Brexit deal for their businesses or constituents.

October 2017

Yet, there is one stakeholder group who cannot speak up for themselves, consisting of hundreds of millions of individuals, for whom Brexit could spell disaster, or could be a once in a generation chance for a better life. Across the country, and beyond, animals stand to be affected by the Government’s decisions over their legal protections as the UK leaves EU Regulations, research and enforcement agencies behind.

Recognising the gravity of this crossroads for animals, twenty-three (and counting) of the nation’s best known animal protection organisations, representing their collective millions of UK supporters, have come together to create a Brexit manifesto for animals. Our newly completed briefing will debut at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester this week, where signatory groups will use it to underline to MPs and Ministers the importance of getting the right deal for animals in Brexit.

The EU has made many great strides in animal welfare in the last decade, all of which have been underpinned by Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty, which recognises animals as ‘sentient beings’ and requires the EU and Member States, when formulating and implementing relevant policies, to “pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”. It is imperative that this is preserved in UK law as a guiding principle, to direct the many different government departments whose policies and decisions affect animal welfare. At present it is a very notable omission from the EU Withdrawal Bill, and the animal welfare community spotlight rests firmly on ensuring it is added as an amendment.

In our paper, we make the case that current EU protections for all animals should be maintained and, ideally, enhanced as a result of Brexit. But the risks are perhaps most acute for farm animals. Around one billion animals are farmed and killed in Britain each year for food, and the majority of their current welfare protections are derived from EU Regulations. The Brexit crossroads offers a choice between diluting and eroding these laws, initiating an intensive-farming ‘race to the bottom’ with overseas producers, or, our recommended route of safeguarding and improving on existing laws, and putting in place protections against imports of products that don’t meet these standards. Similar to Link’s recent vision for sustainable farming, we envision a future for UK farming and fishing that thrives on the highest welfare standards, and rewards such standards through public funding where necessary.

Senior Ministers, including Prime Minister Theresa May, have proudly declared the UK as having some of the best animal welfare standards in the world, and our self-proclaimed identity as a ‘nation of animal lovers’ remains unshakable. We have the longest history of animal protection law in the world - dating back to 1822 - and the UK has been a driving force behind many of the animal welfare regulations and directives agreed by the EU in recent decades.

There is a strong business, political and ethical case for the Government to commit to protecting and enhancing existing animal welfare regulations, post-Brexit. The animal protection community in the UK - advocates for the health and wellbeing of pigs, dogs, seals, chickens, cats, donkeys, badgers, sheep, dolphins… the list is long - is united behind a simple message to government: let’s use Brexit to reassert our claim as a world-leader on animal welfare; let’s get the best possible deal for animals.

Claire Bass

Executive Director

Humane Society International - UK

Follow @sea_l_bass and @HSIUKorg

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.