It has been extremely frustrating that the media have distorted this issue.
Some have suggested that the vote last week on New Clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill somehow signalled a weakening in the protection of animals. That is simply wrong. Voting against the amendment was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain they clearly do. It is a ridiculous misconception which some political parties, MPs and pressure groups are happy to peddle as it suits their own political aims.
I think it is a real shame that certain groups would like to use this vote to imply that the UK does not support the highest welfare standards for animals. Thanks to action taken by both the previous Conservative and Labour Governments we actually have the highest welfare standards in Europe and recent announcements by the current Government such as the mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses and increase in the sentences for animal cruelty convictions from 6 months to 5 years will only serve to increase this.
I voted against the amendment as the EU Withdrawal Bill is not the right vehicle for ensuring animal rights and writing them into British law, it is the means by which we leave the European Union. At Prime Minister’s Questions this week, the Prime Minister made it crystal clear that we will strengthen our current animal welfare rules to match and exceed those currently under EU law. The Government will ensure that any necessary changes required to UK law are made in a properly rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU. The Withdrawal Bill is not the right place to address this, however other legislative vehicles are.
I have always been an animal lover and would never vote for any measure which would allow welfare standards to fall. One of the key reasons I have been voting in favour of the UK withdrawal from the EU is so we can break away from some of the directives which prevent us from strengthening our welfare standards even further. I have been campaigning actively for the ban of the live export of animals which causes untold misery and cruelty but which under current EU rules we are unable to prevent, I am therefore delighted that Michael Gove has confirmed that when we leave the EU we will ban this practice and save from suffering hundreds of thousands of animals.
Once we leave the EU we will also be free to discuss other issues such as the banning of the sale of Foie Gras which we would currently be restricted in doing by EU directive, but which once we leave we can address in full. It important to remember that EU law is no panacea – you can keep farm animals in unspeakably cruel conditions without breaking single EU law. Zac Goldsmith MP perfectly summed up my feelings on this when he said “it would be depressing if that were deemed the benchmark.”
I do hope that this has given you the assurances you need that my vote was certainly not reflective of the view that animals have no feelings and emotions but was part of the complexities of Westminster. I will push hard to ensure not only that we apply every last piece of EU animal welfare protection into UK law, but also that we strengthen laws to ensure we treat every last animal in the UK with greatest respect and highest welfare standards.