Almost 80 per cent of our animal welfare legislation comes from the EU; these hard-won protections safeguard the welfare of millions of animals in the UK.
Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union specifically recognises animals as sentient beings and ensures legislators pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove promised, in July, that this vital recognition would be included in the European Union Withdrawal Bill. The government has also claimed it is committed to bringing over all the existing legislation on animal welfare post-Brexit, though whether the UK will have an independent regulatory body to monitor and enforce this legislation remains to be seen.
However, the key EU animal sentience safeguard is entirely absent from the withdrawal legislation that was recently pushed through by the government at second reading.
Earlier this month, I wrote to Gove urging him not to row back on his promise and to urgently support the cross-party, RSPCA- backed amendment to the Withdrawal Bill which calls on ministers to guarantee that ‘the EU protocol on animal sentience... shall be recognised and available in domestic law’.
In his response, Gove, via junior Environment Minister, Therese Coffey, insists that the UK’s Animal Welfare Act 2006 is already sufficient to protect animals where there is clear scientific evidence that they are ‘demonstrably sentient’.
However, in the 55-pages of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, there is not one single mention of animal sentience. Coffey is wrong to suggest animals are protected in UK law based on their sentience.
But EU law is clear: animals are not goods. Full regard must be given to their welfare at all times to ensure we can continue to change their lives for the better.
Gove’s pitiful reply indicates the apparently born-again Green completely fails to understand the importance of this hard-fought-for EU protection. Greens will keep fighting to ensure animals are not sidelined by Brexit.