Minister confirms that media reports regarding animal sentience were misleading and inaccurate

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West Cornwall MP Derek Thomas has welcomed Michael Gove’s clarification that the sentience of animals will continue to be recognised and protections strengthened when the UK leaves the EU following inaccurate media articles.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made the commitment after joining the Prime Minister in refuting claims that MPs voted against animal welfare.

It has been suggested that the vote last week on New Clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill somehow signalled a weakening in the protection of animals, but said Mr Thomas, that idea was wrong.

“Voting against the amendment tabled by Caroline Lucas MP was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain - that is a misconception,” he said.

“The UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Animal sentience is already recognised as a matter of domestic law, primarily in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. If an animal is capable of experiencing pain and suffering, it is sentient and therefore afforded protection under that Act.

“The Government intends to retain the UK's existing standards of animal welfare once we have left the EU and Michael Gove, has made it clear that he hopes to enhance them.”

Mr Thomas said that the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, that MPs were voting on, will convert the existing body of direct EU laws to become UK laws. It will make sure that the same protections are in place in the UK and that laws still function effectively after the UK leaves the EU.

“Ministers explained on the floor of the house that this Government’s policies on animal welfare are driven by our recognition that animals are indeed sentient beings,” he added.

“The vote against New Clause 30 was the rejection of a faulty amendment, which would not have achieved its stated aims of providing appropriate protection for animals.

“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 very 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 to combat 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.

“I therefore believe that existing UK legislation, which provides necessary and appropriate protection for animals in this country, will not be weakened when we leave the EU, and leaving the EU will allow us to go further in strengthening animal welfare laws. For this reason, I feel that my vote has not jeopardised Britain's high animal welfare standards either current or in the future, once we leave the EU.”