Will the Queen's Guard have to give up their bearskin hats?

Members of the Army have worn traditional bearskin hats since the early 19th century

Sabrina Barr@fabsab5
Friday 18 September 2020 13:17

The Queen’s Guard may have to make a significant change to their uniforms in post-Brexit Britain by no longer wearing their traditional real bearskin hats.

In 2000, fur farming became illegal in England and Wales under the Fur Farming Prohibition Act, with the last mink fur farms ordered to close by 2003. Two years later, fur farming was also outlawed in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

However, it is currently still legal to sell fur in the UK, a fact that may change in the next year or so following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

According to The Telegraph, George Eustice, the environment secretary wrote a letter on 9 September 2020 addressed to Giles Roca, chief executive of the British Fur Trade Association (BFTA), explaining that “once the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU has been established, there will be an opportunity to consider further steps it could take in relation to fur sales”.

Mr Eustice reportedly wrote that the government “will want to hear from all interested parties, including the fur sector, as it looks to develop proposals and form views on what the fur trade might look like after the transition period”.

He added that the government may “choose to consult on this matter”, it was reported.

What does this mean for the Queen’s Guard?

If all forms of fur sales are banned in the UK, then this will mean the Queen’s Guard may no longer be able to wear their bearskin hats, which members of the army have worn since the early 19th century.

The bearskin hats worn by the Queen’s Guard are made from Canadian black bear fur and measure approximately 18 inches in height.

The Army buys between 50 and 100 bearskin hats a year. In 2008, it was reported that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) said the Ministry of Defence had spent more than £321,000 on bearskins in the previous five years.

The hats are worn at events like Trooping the Colour, the Queen’s birthday, and the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

If the Guard are unable to replace their hats with new fur items, they may be forced to reconsider a fur-free alternative. The Palace has not commented on the proposed consultation.

In 2015, Boris Johnson said he would be open to switching to false fur on the hats after designer Stella McCartney proposed a synthetic maternial.

He said: “If Stella McCartney can help save a few bears by making false busbys then I'm with her. I'm not going to fight that.”

The BFTA argues that the outright banning of fur imports would “damage and set back animal welfare”, as the ban would not “mean that demand would stop”, the organisation states.

“Supply would switch from legal furs that come from reputable, responsible and certified sources overseen by law enforcement, replaced by those that do not respect sector or governmental standards including on animal welfare,” says the BFTA.

In response to BFTA’s statements, Claire Bass, director of Humane Society International UK (HSI/UK) said that they “welcome signs from the secretary of state for environment that the government is taking seriously public calls for a fur sales ban”.

Ms Bass said that a “consultation would allow [the] government to get the facts behind this opaque industry”.

The HSI/UK representative explained that the organisation’s #FurFreeBritain is not calling for people to stop wearing fur, but for fur sales to cease.

“When the US State of California banned fur sales last year it included exemptions for religious and cultural use of fur, as well as second hand fur, so these are all pragmatic exemptions the UK government could consider, and create a ban that would still have a huge impact on an industry that causes immense suffering to millions of animals overseas,” she said.

Ms Bass added that “while exemptions could certainly be put in place for the ceremonial use of fur like the Queen’s Guard”, the Queen may be open to the Army seeking a fur-free substitute for the bearskin hats.

“Since Her Majesty elected last year not to buy any new animal furs into her wardrobe we might speculate that she would be open to the Ministry of Defence phasing out bearskin busbys in favour of cruelty-free alternatives,” she stated.

The Independent has contacted Buckingham Palace for comment.

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