Animal Welfare

I am aware that there have been a number of misconceptions perpetrated by the media about last week’s vote. As I strongly support higher standards of animal welfare I am pleased that the Government has explained current policy and how it is improving animal welfare standards without EU input and beyond the scope of Article 13.

Please find below the letter the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which sets out the Government’s position.

Dear colleague,

This Government is committed to the very highest standards of animal welfare. As the Prime Minister set out yesterday, we will make the United Kingdom a world leader in the care and protection of animals.

Some voices have suggested that the vote last week on New Clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill somehow signalled a weakening in the protection of animals. That is plain wrong. Voting against the amendment was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain. That is a ridiculous misconception.

Ministers explained on the floor of the house last week that this Government’s policies on animal welfare are driven by our recognition that animals are indeed sentient beings and we are acting energetically to reduce the risk of harm to animals – whether on farms or in the wild. Last week’s vote was simply the rejection of a faulty amendment, which would not have achieved its stated aims of providing appropriate protection for animals.

And at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, the Prime Minister made it crystal clear that we will strengthen our animal welfare rules. This government will ensure that any necessary changes required to UK law are made in a properly rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU. The Withdrawal Bill is not the right place to address this, however we are considering the right legislative vehicle.

We are already proposing primary legislation to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years, and the creation of a new statutory, independent body to uphold environmental standards.

The truth is that the current EU instrument – Article 13 – has not delivered the progress we want to see. It does not have direct effect in law – in practice its effect is unclear and it has failed to prevent practices across the EU which are cruel and painful to animals.

In contrast, here in the UK, we are improving animal welfare standards without EU input and beyond the scope of Article 13. We are making CCTV mandatory in all slaughterhouses – a requirement which goes above and beyond any EU rule. We will consult on draft legislation to jail animal abusers for up to five years – more than almost every other European nation. We propose combatting elephant poaching with a ban on the ivory trade which is more comprehensive than anywhere else in Europe. Our ban on microbeads which harm marine animals has been welcomed by Greenpeace as “the strongest in the world”, and is certainly the strongest in Europe.

Once we have left the EU there is even more we could do. EU rules prevent us from restricting or banning the live export of animals for slaughter. EU rules also restrict us from cracking down on puppy smuggling or banning the import of puppies under 6 months. Article 13 has not stopped any of these practices – but leaving the EU gives us the chance to do much better. We hope to say more in these areas next year.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Gove


  1. Chris
    November 23, 2017

    Good start, Mr Gove. Please make banning the export of live animals for slaughter a top priority. I wonder how many people realised that this growth in puppy smuggling and import of puppies under 6 months had been facilitated by the EU? You are onto a winner here, Mr Gove, for our nation of animal lovers. Keep going on these and related issues, and you will bring another sector of the population on board for Brexit.

  2. June Romans
    November 24, 2017

    I am very relieved to read this. It seemed unbelievable that British MPs would have voted as reported in the media.
    Better animal welfare, especially the banning of live exports, should be one of the major benefits of leaving the EU.

  3. nigel seymour
    November 24, 2017

    Let’s hear it for all the Goldfishes in the bowls. Just like the Remainers that want to stop Brexit, they just keep going round and round and round and round.

  4. Norman
    November 24, 2017

    Decent people have always treated their fellow creatures with care. As long as 3,000 years ago, Solomon wrote: ‘The righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel’ (Proverbs 12:10). (Yes, sadly, whatever the subject there are always the extremes.)
    It is an interesting fact that the RSPCA was founded before the NSPCC, though I believe it is fair to say that both had their roots in the awakening of conscience associated with the great evangelical revivals of the 18th century – as with many other social reforms, e.g. the abolition of slavery, prison reform, help for the poor, etc
    My past career gave me plenty of opportunity to see Animal Welfare law in action, and how it should and should not be applied. I am more than a little wary, however, when people with a political or ‘New Age’ ideological axe-to-grind jump onto this very emotive bandwagon. A lot of the comment we are hearing these past few days falls into this category, and is really not balanced and sincere. And as always, hard cases make bad law. Upping the anti (five years in jail) for someone who neglects livestock because of some sort of personal breakdown will not help anyone – except those who want to make self-righteous political capital. But yes, we must lead the way, and for the most part, we already do.

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