Brexit ‘fake news’ hysteria is silencing genuine concerns

Written by Tom Freeman on 24 November 2017 in Comment

Animal rights concerns have been drowned out with cries of 'fake news'

‘Fake news is going mega viral!’ cried Conservative blogger Guido Fawkes.

The prominent online commentator was upset at an ill-worded story on the Independent website which suggested Conservative MPs have refused to recognise that animals are sentient beings after Brexit.

“MPs vote 'that animals cannot feel pain or emotions'” screamed the headline.

This, of course, is nonsense, and the website has already changed it to something less hysterical.

However, the story stems from the rejection of an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill from Caroline Lucas which called for the continuation of protecting the sentience of animals in law.

Ministers argued that sentience was covered in the UK Animal Welfare Act 2006. It categorically was not, as reported by Holyrood when the vote actually happened last week.

MPs didn’t vote that animals aren’t sentient creatures. But they did vote to deny that recognition in law.

This is where the Brexit debate has got to. Instead of looking at what protection animals have in British law, and examining what might have led the UK Government to refuse to write sentience into that, we’re left with an argument about whether politicians think animals feel pain or not.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said that his Bichon Frise, Snowy, is an "indispensable member of the family". He missed a business statement in the Commons to support her in the Westminster Dog of the Year. He knows it has feelings.

Yet if its sentience is covered by the 2006 act, why did Michael Gove feel the need to say this yesterday: “This government will ensure that any necessary changes required to UK law are made in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU”?

He did it because of the sheer volume of criticism the UK Government has had over this.

But a vote on this did already happen, one of many amendments going through the Commons every day at the moment which will have a lasting and significant legacy.

With hysterical reporting and hysterical cries of 'talking Britain down', very real concerns, not just about animal welfare but also those of EU nationals who have made the UK their home, or the huge question mark over the future of research funding, are being drowned out while the relentless march toward the EU exit door carries on.

People are also getting very worried about the impact of Brexit on health and care services. Third sector organisations have flocked to back the SNP amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill calling for an impact assessment to be done.

The sector is concerned about the impact on staff from the EU, a decline in funding for medical research and levels of funding for services.

But will these fears be heard, or greeted with cries of ‘fake news’?

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