Animal sentience to be recognised in UK law post-Brexit, says Government

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Brexit will not weaken welfare rules which treat animals as sentient beings, the Government has insisted.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove sought to assuage concerns over a recent parliamentary vote against transferring EU rules on animal welfare into British law, saying it was "not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain".

The amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which would have transferred the EU protocol on animal sentience, so that animals are still recognised as sentient beings under domestic law, was voted down last week.

Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, who tabled the amendment, had raised concerns that the current regulations risked dropping out of UK law by accident once Britain leaves the European Union.

In a written ministerial statement, Mr Gove said the Withdrawal Bill was not the right place to address the issue and the vote was a "rejection of a faulty amendment" that would not have achieved its aim of providing appropriate protection.

But the Government will ensure that necessary changes to UK law as the country leaves the European Union are made in "a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is recognised".

The Government's policies are driven by the recognition that animals are sentient beings and "we are acting energetically to reduce the risk of harm to animals, whether on farms or in the wild", he said.

Mr Gove also said the EU laws on animal sentience were not delivering the wanted progress on welfare, and prevented action on issues such as cracking down on puppy smuggling and banning the import of young dogs, or restricting live export of animals for slaughter.

"Leaving the EU gives us the chance to do much better" in these areas, he said.

Humane Society International UK director Claire Bass welcomed the reassurance that the Government would formally recognise animal sentience in UK law post-Brexit and strengthen rules to protect animals in the UK.

"Acknowledging that animals have the capacity to suffer and feel pain is absolutely fundamental to protecting them from harm, and we need a binding imperative enshrined in UK law that will hold government to account, ensuring that animal welfare is fully taken into account in all UK law and policy-making.

"We can't afford for this guiding principle to be thrown out with the Brussels bathwater and so look forward to hearing the Government's legislative plans in the very near future."

But Ms Lucas said the Government's refusal to accept the amendment was "simply absurd" and said the continued insistence that sentience was covered in animal welfare legislation was wrong.

"Britain has been forward-thinking on animal welfare over the years, which is why ditching this provision would be such a backwards step.

"The UK Government led on introducing this EU protocol in the first place, and it's only an obsession with refusing changes to the EU Withdrawal Bill that's stopping ministers adopting this amendment now," she said.