On the subject of the protection given to, and the status of, animals, you should know that currently, the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Ministers have been clear that they intend it to remain world-leading in the future and, as a minimum, to retain our existing standards of animal welfare once we have left the EU.
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill will convert the existing body of direct EU animal welfare laws to become UK laws. Most of these EU laws relate to farmed animals and many were passed after Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) came into effect.
Based on the UK’s Animal Welfare Act, the Animal Protection Index, maintained by World Animal Protection, rates the UK’s formal recognition of animal sentience as grade A. Other Lisbon Treaty signatories such as France, Italy and Spain do not enjoy this rating, having each received grade C.
Article 13 of the TFEU created a qualified obligation on the EU and Member States “to have full regard to the welfare of animals [as they are sentient beings]” when formulating and implementing EU law. The Government has said that it will consider how the ‘animal sentience’ principle of Article 13 might be explicitly reflected in the UK when we leave the EU.
Having looked into this matter I understand the main reason for the EU move was to harmonise the legal status of animals under the French Civil Code with its Penal and Rural Codes, which already recognised animals as having interests that could not apply to inanimate property. It made no change to the protections animals enjoy.
However, UK laws are arranged differently so it is not possible to draw a direct comparison between our legal regimes, but I note that French legislators explicitly rejected bans on bullfighting and cockfighting, both of which are illegal here.
The fact that Britain already has in place the Animal Welfare Act 2006 was apparently overlooked by some who moved an amendment that would have duplicated existing animal welfare law. This was therefore more of a a vote on procedure than on the issue itself. The majority of MPs took the view that having two laws which, in effect, say the same thing could cause legal confusion and the amendment was rejected.
Therefore existing UK legislation will not be weakened when we leave the EU and I would certainly not vote for it to be so.