MPs have voted to reject the inclusion of animal sentience – the admission that animals feel emotion and pain – into the EU Withdrawal Bill.
The move has been criticised by animal rights activists, who say the vote undermines environment secretary Michael Gove’s pledge to prioritise animal rights during Brexit.
The majority of animal welfare legislation comes from the EU. The UK Government is tasked with adopting EU laws directly after March 2019 but has dismissed animal sentience.
The Government said during the debate before the vote that this clause is covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
The RSPCA disputed the Government’s claim.
"It’s shocking that MPs have given the thumbs down to incorporating animal sentience into post-Brexit UK law," RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles told Farming UK.
He added that domestic animals were only covered in the Act, and the 2006 law does not cover sentience.
“In the EU, we know that the recognition of animals as sentient beings has been effective in improving animal welfare across the region,” he said.
“If the UK is to achieve the Environment Secretary’s objective of achieving the highest possible animal welfare post-Brexit, it must do the same.”
Nick Palmer, head of policy at Compassion in World Farming, said: "How can the UK be seen as a leader in animal welfare when the repeal bill fails to guarantee that animals will continue to be regarded as sentient beings?
"We urge the Government to reintroduce the commitment into the Bill."
Richard Bowler, a wildlife photographer, posted a picture of "Rosie", a local fox he had formed an attachment to, claiming that politicians ignored the "pain and emotion" felt by animals.
"It really beggars belief that in this day and age, this shower of a government no longer recognises animals as sentient beings," he wrote.
"None of them could have had a pet dog, greet them when they come home. But it's not just domestic animals that show love and affection. The photograph shows Rosie and how she greets me, every time I visit her."
He added: "Science is showing more and more animal intelligence and emotions and yet our government has yet again ignored it. There can only be one reason to deny animal sentient status, and that is to exploit them."
Animal sentience was incorporated into EU law in 2009 via the Lisbon Treaty, following years of campaigning by animal rights activists.
NOTE: The headline to this article was updated on November 23
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies