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Brexit: Michael Gove pledges principle that animals can 'feel pain and suffering' will be enshrined into UK law

‘We are a nation of animal lovers so we will make Brexit work, not just for citizens, but for the animals we love and cherish too’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 12 December 2017 11:25 GMT
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Michael Gove promised a Brexit ‘not only maintaining but enhancing animal welfare standards’
Michael Gove promised a Brexit ‘not only maintaining but enhancing animal welfare standards’ (Reuters)

The principle that animals can “feel pain and suffering” will be enshrined in British law as part of stronger protections after Brexit, Michael Gove has pledged.

New legislation will also see animal abusers jailed for up to five years, the Environment Secretary vowed – instead of just six months.

The move follows criticism by animal rights’ groups that Mr Gove was rowing back from a pledge that animals will still be regarded as “sentient”, responsive beings, capable of feeling pain.

Ministers refused to bow to pressure to transfer, onto the UK statute book, an EU law requiring animal welfare to be taken into account when drawing up new policies.

Now Mr Gove has published a draft bill that will bind the Government to consider “the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings”.

He also promised a “Brexit for animals”, arguing that EU withdrawal would allow the Government to strengthen animal protections in ways that Brussels prevents.

“Inside the EU, we can’t restrict live export of animals, ban products which breach our animal welfare standards, or effectively tackle the exploitative trade in domestic pets raised in cruel conditions,” Mr Gove tweeted.

And, on the bill, he added: “As we leave the EU we will deliver a green Brexit, not only maintaining but enhancing animal welfare standards.

“Animals are sentient beings who feel pain and suffering, so we are writing that principle into law and ensuring that we protect their welfare.

“We are a nation of animal lovers so we will make Brexit work not just for citizens but for the animals we love and cherish too.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said longer jail terms for animal abusers followed recent “shocking cases” where courts said the available punishments were insufficient.

They included a man who trained dogs to ruthlessly torture other animals, including trapping a fox and a terrier dog in a cage to brutally attack each other.

Tougher sentences were welcomed by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home as a “significant step”.

“The current maximum cruelty sentence of six months in England and Wales is neither a punishment nor a deterrent but Battersea believes today’s publication of a draft bill could help to achieve both,” said Claire Horton, the organisation’s chief executive.

In recent months, green campaigners have praised Mr Gove for his surprise activism on other environmental issues.

He announced plans to ban sales of ivory and plastic microbeads, to outlaw new petrol and diesel cars by 2040 and proposed a deposit scheme for drinks bottles and cans.

However, animal welfare groups had expected Article 13, granting sentient status, to be pasted into UK law as part of the EU withdrawal bill and were horrified when it was missing.

When an attempt by MPs to reverse that decision failed last month, it was wrongly reported that the Commons had voted that animals are not sentient creatures.

But Mr Gove is under pressure to ban – rather than merely restrict – live exports of animals, by backing a backbench bill put forward by Theresa Villiers, a former cabinet minister.

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