If you’re anything like me then you would have been shocked to learn that a motion to recognise animals as sentient beings – capable of feeling pain and emotion – was rejected from the EU Withdrawal Bill during a commons vote last week. The amendment, submitted by Green Party leader Caroline Lucas was narrowly defeated in parliament by just 18 votes, after every single member of the Conservative Party and their bedfellows the DUP voted against it. Despite every remaining member of parliament voting to transfer the animal sentience clause into UK law post-Brexit, the government was able to use its fragile majority to defeat them.
What is perhaps most disheartening, yet somehow unsurprising, is the complete and blatant u-turn by Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove. Earlier this year Michael Gove was questioned in the House of Commons about his intentions regarding the environmental implications and animal welfare standards of Brexit. During this debate Gove was asked by Henry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley: “Can my right hon. Friend confirm that article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, which categorises animals as sentient beings, will be part of the repeal Bill?” to which Gove confidently responded: “Absolutely. Before we entered the European Union, we recognised in our own legislation that animals were sentient beings. I am an animal; we are all animals, and therefore I care—[Interruption.] I am predominantly herbivorous, I should add. It is an absolutely vital commitment that we have to ensure that all creation is maintained, enhanced and protected.” However, it seems that this promise – supposedly based upon beliefs close to Gove’s heart – was conveniently forgotten about when the time came for him to cast his shameful vote (along with the rest of his party – even Henry Smith himself).
The question we all have to ask – and definitely should be asking – is why the entire Conservative party voted the way they did, and what sinister policy is lurking around the corner? This is not only a party that seems to have nothing more than a superficial grasp of animal welfare issues, but also a party with the responsibility of navigating the turbulent waters of Brexit. There have already been fear-laden reports that Brexit might spell bad news for animals, but never has this been more plausible a concern than following this vote. With the legal standing and even the very basic nature of animals being re-written in law during our withdrawal from the EU, we are now on the edge of a very dangerous precipice. What will this mean for farm animals in a post-Brexit Britain?
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 currently protects companion animals such as cats and dogs, but makes no mention of sentience and does nothing to protect the animals most often subjected to abuse such as farm animals, wildlife and laboratory animals. It seems we could be about to take several steps backwards and see the most vulnerable animals in this country stripped of what few rights they did have, and subjected to much lower standards of welfare. Perhaps farm animals – no longer considered sentient beings – will be able to be reared, housed and slaughtered with even less regard for welfare than they are now; or perhaps we will even see the end of historically crucial wildlife protections as we watch our remaining areas of green-belt land swallowed up in a sea of concrete.
Of course, this is not the first time the Conservatives have demonstrated a complete lack of compassion and understanding when it comes to animal welfare issues. The reason the parliamentary vote on fox hunting was scrapped from the final Tory manifesto was not because Theresa and her chums had a change of heart, but simply because of their humiliating performance in this year’s election. Had Mrs May got the majority she so confidently predicted, the countryside would no doubt have already reverted back to being a playground for the bloodthirsty.
Then of course there’s the badger culling, a scientifically flawed and economically disastrous time-wasting exercise that has done nothing but prove that badgers don’t spread bovine TB and that this government has an irrational hatred of badgers. In fact, it seems that every time there is a discussion on animal welfare issues, the Conservative party show a complete lack of connection with the wider public and push ahead with policies that the majority of the country find abhorrent. Surely this in itself demonstrates that not only are the Tories not the party for animal lovers, they’re not the party of the people at all.
In a world that is now spiralling towards the increasingly uncertain future created by global warming, deforestation, mass-farming and other devastating symptoms of an over-consumptive society, the time is now upon us to start choosing our leaders more wisely. Protecting our environment and the animals (human or otherwise) that inhabit it should be at the top of the agenda for any government. Recognising our fellow non-human Earthlings as sentient beings is an important part of any society that wishes to strive for a more ethical and environmentally secure future. The Conservative party have shown us before that they do not care about animals, but now we have it in writing. It’s time for us to take action.
What Can I Do?
If you live in a constituency with a Conservative MP then please contact them to let them know you do not agree with their vote. You can find out the name and party of your MP, as well as how to contact them by clicking here.
Alternatively you can ask your MP to tell Michael Gove: “Animals are sentient beings” by clicking here.
You can also sign this petition which will be delivered to Michael Gove.
Finally, please keep the pressure upon the government to reverse this decision. Please share this article, and others like it, and remember this decision next time you are asked to vote for a new government.
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