Thirty-six animal welfare organisations are warning that the UK Government risks public dismay if it waters down animal protections in UK law post-Brexit, following on from a public outcry in late 2017 over weakening animal sentience law.

New research released today reveals that more than 8 out of 10 British people (81%) think that animal welfare laws should be maintained or strengthened post-Brexit, while only 2% feel it might be acceptable to have weaker animal protections.

The warning comes as a new #BetterDealForAnimals campaign is launched, to make sure that animals don’t become victims of Brexit. The campaign is calling for animal sentience to be explicitly enshrined in UK law, as it is in the EU, and for any future legislation or Government policy to fully take into account its impact on the welfare of animals. Without this, the UK Government’s current planned legislation will weaken protection for animals across the country.

A major event in Parliament on 26 February will demonstrate strong cross-party support for the demand to fully recognise animal sentience in UK law before we leave the EU. This event is sponsored by Nic Dakin MP (Lab), Zac Goldsmith MP (Con), Tim Farron MP (Lib Dem), and Deidre Brock MP (SNP), and Sue Hayman MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) will be speaking.

The calls to protect animal welfare are strongly supported by the public - new research published today, and conducted by YouGov on behalf of the charities, reveals that:

  • Voters for all the main political parties believe that animal welfare laws should be maintained or made more extensive than they are now – 86% of Conservative voters, 84% of Labour voters and 82% of Lib Dem voters
  • 80% of the British public want post-Brexit Government trade deals to have clear requirements that imported animal products meet or exceed British animal welfare production standards. Only 6% say this should not be a requirement
  • Almost 7 out of 10 (68%) want legal requirements to ensure that animal welfare is protected, to the greatest extent possible, when new laws and policies are made. Only 3% oppose this
  • Less than a third (31%) of the public are confident that the UK Government will live up to its promises of being a world leader on animal welfare, 56% say they are not confident
  • Two-thirds (66%) want an animal protection committee established to give expert independent advice to government on safeguarding animal welfare

Claire Bass, Humane Society International UK Executive Director and Chair of Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Animal Welfare Group, said: ‘Since passing the first animal protection law in the world, almost 200 years ago, our country has been a proud global leader in evolving science, ethics and policy to better protect animals. Now, as the Brexit deadline closes in, we are facing a weakening in our vitally important animal welfare laws. We need a firm and clear commitment from the government that it will recognise animal sentience in a strong law that has ‘bite’, to make sure animals do not become victims of Brexit.’

Sonul Badiani-Hamment, World Animal Protection External Affairs Adviser, said: "The Government keep stating that animal welfare is a priority for them, yet the public are still waiting for them to take action and protect them in law. Keeping the basic legal protections we have in the EU, and building on these, is vital if we’re to live up to the promise of being a world leader on animal welfare."

David Bowles, Head of Public Affairs at the RSPCA, said: "A nation of animal lovers will not stand by while the UK Government weakens animal protections. We must speak up for animals who can’t speak for themselves. With eighty six percent of the Government’s own voters saying they want animal welfare laws maintained or strengthened, the Government must heed this message and live up to its promises to protect our treasured animals."

Ian Cawsey, Director of Advocacy, The Donkey Sanctuary said: “It is important that animals are not forgotten in all of the discussions and actions needed during the Brexit process. The UK Government has made some very encouraging comments about their desire to improve animal welfare post Brexit, but that needs to be turned into a reality. We know that MPs from all parties want to make this happen and this fantastic coalition of animal welfare groups stands by not just to hold the government to account but also to help them improve welfare for all animals in the UK.”

Following the public backlash about animal sentience law not being included in the Withdrawal Bill in November 2017, the UK Government made firm commitments ‘to make sure Brexit delivers not just for the British people, but for animals too’. These included promises to be ‘a world leader in the care and protection of animals’ and that the Government would ‘strengthen our animal welfare rules.’

Yet, under current UK Government legislation plans, animals would receive less legal protection post-Brexit than they do while we’re part of the EU. This is because Government Departments would not have the same legal requirement to take account of animal sentience and welfare in all new laws, policy and their delivery. The UK Government says animals are protected by existing laws – particularly the Animal Welfare Act 2006 – but this doesn't cover all animals, such as free living wildlife, and other overriding ‘protection’ legislation on farm animals permits poor practices, such as keeping laying hens caged, and farming ducks without full body access to water for bathing.

This is particularly worrying given the huge range of Government policy decisions to be made post-Brexit which could harm animals without strong legal protections, for example:

  • New trade deals could permit imports of lower welfare animal products – such as chicken carcasses washed in chlorine and meat and dairy produced from hormone-treated animals – leading to a race to the bottom in UK farming standards to compete on price.
  • Building of terrestrial and marine developments, and major infrastructure projects, e.g. housing, motorways and offshore renewable developments, may not have to consider the animal welfare impact to the same extent as under EU rules, risking avoidable suffering of wildlife.
  • Government Departments and Agencies responsible for UK International aid, could invest in overseas intensive farming systems banned in the UK due to poor animal welfare standards.
  • Wildlife management practices could more easily use inhumane methods, resulting in cruel and painful animal deaths.
  • Disturbance of marine animals could be even harder to determine as a wildlife crime - leading, for example, to more dolphins being disturbed by thoughtless boat users.

The animal welfare coalition is calling on Governments in the UK to keep vital legal animal protections in place as we leave the EU. The coalition is urging MPs to show their support for protecting our much-loved animals by attending the Parliamentary event and backing an Early Day Motion on the issue. It is also urging members of the public to back the calls of the #BetterDealForAnimals campaign by getting in touch with their MP.