Ditching the ban on trophy hunt and foie gras imports is dangerous and undemocratic

Boris Johnson’s U-turn on his manifesto promise condemns thousands of animals to suffer or be driven further towards extinction – purely for political expediency

Jane Dalton
Wednesday 16 March 2022 15:25 GMT
Murdering the planet’s most majestic wildlife is utterly repugnant to all right-minded voters
Murdering the planet’s most majestic wildlife is utterly repugnant to all right-minded voters (AFP via Getty Images)

In his first-ever speech as prime minister in 2019, Boris Johnson stood in Downing Street, and amid a great flood of lofty rhetoric, vaunted his government’s pledge to “promote the welfare of animals that has always been so close to the hearts of the British people”. The Conservative election manifesto, five months later, included a promise to ban imports from trophy-hunting of endangered animals.

Things were looking up for the four-legged among us. The previous year, the Tories had introduced CCTV in slaughterhouses – although loopholes have since emerged – and banned toiletries containing marine life killing microbeads. Last year, maximum sentences for animal cruelty were raised from six months to five years. It was all seen as a sign that at long last the Conservatives had finally “got it”. They got that needless animal suffering is unacceptable.

True, doubts crept in when, post-Brexit, the government refused to carry over animal sentience from EU law into UK legislation. But ministers reassured the nation with a wide-ranging “animal welfare plan” promising a host of long-overdue policies, such as banning live exports and ivory sales, outlawing the keeping of wild animals as pets, and banning imports of hunting trophies, foie gras, shark fins and adverts for elephant rides abroad.

The last four of these were written into a new flagship Animals Abroad Bill, celebrated by campaigners who had dedicated years of their lives to fighting for the measures that would spare thousands of animals from suffering.

Now, though, it’s emerged that ministers are planning to ditch the bill, which would also have banned imports of real fur, claiming a lack of parliamentary time.

It’s a spectacularly abysmal U-turn. Animal protectionists, fed up of having to battle MPs for every small step of progress, will watch as their work is torn up, and will feel they’ve been deceived by a government that has no respect for them.

Lions, elephants, leopards and rhinos and sharks will continue to be hunted further towards extinction; ducks and geese will still suffer torturous force-feeding, and Asian elephants will still be whipped, chained and speared for tourists’ cash. Big cats, apes, bears and dolphins in the tourism industry will all continue to suffer.

Anyone would think the party is deliberately reviving the very image that it used to try to shrug off – as the soulless, unfeeling “nasty” party.

The sickening decision was apparently down to Johnson’s need to satisfy right-wing MPs who don’t see cruelty and extinction as a problem, in order to secure his fragile position as leader. It’s absurd and truly undemocratic that the government is trying to pander to a tone-deaf faction of the party and blatantly breaking its own written commitments.

Meanwhile, ministers have also been sitting on the results of last year’s call for evidence on the fur trade, which received 30,000 responses. This appears to be no coincidence. The leadership, in effect, is allowing public policy to be dictated by a self-interested minority rather than a public majority. It’s not as though dropping the Animals Abroad Bill would be unpopular with Conservative voters, either – polling suggests 92 per cent of them support banning trophy imports.

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With party grandee Sir Roger Gale and even arch-Brexiteer Mark Francois calling for an immediate ban on trophy hunting, alongside howls of outrage from conservationists over the decision, Johnson isn’t even doing himself any political favours.

The production of both fur and foie gras is considered so barbarous that they are rightly banned in the UK, and murdering the planet’s most majestic wildlife is utterly repugnant to all right-minded voters. But allowing these things to continue, all for political expediency, sends an unprincipled, dangerous message to hunters, tourists and others who should know better.

When the government really wants to get important legislation done, it finds the parliamentary hours, and should do so for this bill. Nobody will be fooled by the “lack of time” pretence.

Some people may say that since the start of the Ukraine war, there are more important issues than animal suffering and wildlife population declines. But dropping the bill would do nothing to help Ukraine. Instead, this boorish decision will just add to the total sum of misery in the world.

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