Animals set to lose rights after Brexit as MPs reject continuation of EU protections

Written by Tom Freeman on 16 November 2017 in News

Scottish Parliament faces calls to recognise sentience of animals after EU protections rejected by Commons

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Animals may not be recognised in law as sentient beings after Brexit, after MPs rejected proposals to maintain EU protections.

An amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill at Westminster put forward by Caroline Lucas sought to maintain the legal recognition of animals as sentient beings which currently exists in European law.

However, MPs rejected the amendment by 313 to 295.


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Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty reads: “Recognising animals as sentient beings means recognising their capacity to, for example, feel joy, fear or misery, to think and make choices, and to enjoy the company of others.”

This has led to a number of minimum standards and welfare protections for agricultural and wild animals in EU member states, including rights to health and comfort.

Eighty per cent of animal welfare law currently comes from the EU, but ministers have said sentience is covered by the UK Animal Welfare Act 2006.

RSPCA Head of Public Affairs David Bowles called the decision “shocking”.

“Animal sentience is never mentioned in the Animal Welfare Act and, crucially, only domestic animals are really covered by the provisions of the Act anyway,” he said.

Scottish animal charity OneKind has called for Holyrood to take urgent action to recognise animal sentience in the wake of the vote.

Director Harry Huyton said:  “This has been a principle of EU law for twenty years.

“Its introduction was a landmark moment for animal protection in Europe as it recognised that all animals are sentient beings and that the European Union had a duty to pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals when developing and implementing policy.”

Lucas said to lose by 18 votes was “so disappointing”.

She told MPs: “I am not suggesting for a moment that as a result of not closing it we're all suddenly going to go out and start murdering kittens. No one is suggesting anything like that.

“But what we are simply saying is that this is an important protocol.”

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