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Brexit: A bad deal for animals

Brexit: A bad deal for animals

Today (23 June) marks seven years since the Brexit referendum.

A new report reveals how the previously promised improvements for animals used in research, wild animals, animals in agriculture and companion animals have all fallen short as all ranked either red or amber on a barometer of delivery progress.

UK Government is failing animals and the British public. 

23 June 2023 - The Government has failed to deliver its promise to ‘revolutionise’ animal welfare* post-Brexit, as a string of stalled and dropped legislation leaves millions of animals at risk, reveals a new report.

Throughout the Brexit process, the nation was promised that the UK’s departure from the EU would provide the opportunity for a fundamental rethink of how we treat animals in the UK. But, on the seventh anniversary of the referendum animal protection groups from the coalition #BetterDealForAnimals including Compassion in World Farming, Born Free, FOUR PAWS UK, Humane Society International/UK and RSPCA have released a report together with Wildlife and Countryside Link and the UK Centre for Animal Law (A-Law) highlighting the failure to improve the lives of companion, wild and farmed animals.  

In May 2021, DEFRA released its Action Plan for Animal Welfare, in which the Government recognised leaving the European Union was an ‘opportunity to do things better’ for animals and promised to ‘revolutionise’ our treatment of animals.

However, just last month the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which has been languishing in Parliament for the past two years, was dropped from the political agenda. This vital legislation would have, amongst other welfare measures, tackled live animal exports, the illegal puppy trade, reforms to zoo licensing and the keeping of primates as pets and, whilst the latter is slated to be addressed in secondary legislation, the other topics have all but been pushed aside. Now the future of the improvements that were contained within the Bill will now need to be addressed through a series of single issue Bills, including precarious Private Members’ Bills.

The report released today ‘A Review of Brexit; getting the best Brexit deal for animals’ looks at changes in the law post-Brexit and then addresses the progress, or lack thereof, for animals used in research, wild animals, animals in agriculture and domesticated animals. The report ranks each area against the recommendations from the #BetterDealForAnimals 2018 report, which highlighted a number of recommendations to improve animal welfare post Brexit, as well as the Conservative Party's own promises in its 2021 Action Plan for Animal Welfare. The report's Risk Barometer ranks most areas orange or red, highlighting that little progress has been made and the urgent need for increased animal welfare protections through improved legislation.

Paula Sparks, Chairperson of the UK Centre for Animal Law:

“Whilst there has been some progress in areas such as the new farming subsidy system, areas such as wildlife opportunities have not been taken to introduce improvements. Overall there is a huge contrast between the vision painted by the Action Plan for Animal Welfare and the reality as the end of the Parliament session approaches. The Government must act swiftly to deliver its promises to a new era of animal welfare advances.”

Sonul Badiani-Hamment, FOUR PAWS UK Country Director says:

“Red is often associated with danger and sadly this new report paints a grave picture of the state of animal welfare in the UK, despite it being hailed as an area that would be positively impacted by Brexit. 

"As a nation, we were promised that Brexit would enable the Government to strengthen legal protections for farmed, companion and wild animals, but as it stands animals are barely better protected than they were in 2016. The recent abandonment of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was yet another nail in the coffin with a key Brexit campaign promise to ban the live export of farmed animals being shelved.

"It’s time for the Government to start listening to the 72% of the British public who want more and stronger legal protections for animals, and bringing the Kept Animals Bill back as a matter of urgency would be a good place to start.”

Despite an overall gloomy review of the past five years, there have been some glimmers of hope. The introduction of a new farming subsidy system was welcomed by many including those at Compassion in World Farming:

Says James West, Head of Policy at Compassion in World Farming:

“It’s appalling that the UK Government has not delivered in a number of areas of animal protection post-Brexit. Not only did they  promise to ban the cruel live exports trade, they also pledged to improve farmed animal welfare through the reform of farm subsidies but substantial progress in this area was lacking. The Government must ensure that post-Brexit farm policy delivers the benefits for animals that were promised. Despite it being seven years since the referendum, the Government simply hasn’t made this a priority and must.”

In terms of captive and free-living wild animals, progress has been almost non-existent, says Born Free’s Head of Policy Dr Mark Jones:

“While the protections for wild animals under EU law have been largely retained, commitments on biodiversity protection and recovery have been diluted and delivered late and promises to address welfare issues affecting both free-living and captive wild animals remain largely unfulfilled. The failure by the Government to deliver the key elements for wild animals contained in the now defunct Animals Abroad and Kept Animals Bills leaves both captive and free-living wild animals in limbo, relying on precarious Private Members’ Bills and vague promises that some elements will be taken forward through other legislative mechanisms.” 

David Bowles, RSPCA Head of Public Affairs, said: 

"The Government recognised the huge opportunities to do better for animals post-Brexit and pledged to be a world leader in animal welfare. But instead of exporting our higher standards to the rest of the world, we have continued to open our own doors to suffering, whether it is importing dogs with cropped ears, puppies from abroad, keeping primates as pets or through our trade deals. Government must stop chipping away at our hard-worn protections for animals and deliver what was promised - that all animals will receive the care, protection and respect they deserve."