Michael Gove’s first major speech as Environment Minister contains promise for animals

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for the Environment delivered his first major speech on the environment at the offices of WWF today, where he promised a ‘Green Brexit’ that would set gold standards for protecting animal welfare and the environment.

He started by saying that he deeply regrets President Trump’s stance on Climate Change and withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and hopes the American President will have a change of heart.

As I sat near the front row listening and tweeting from the event, Mr Gove made a number of very encouraging comments in his speech.  He was passionate about delivering justice to anyone who is cruel to animals and said “They would face the full penalty of the law.”  We hope this will be followed up with swift action. IFAW has been campaigning for the penalties to be increased for animal welfare sentences from 6 months to 5 years as part of the Finn’s Law campaign.  We hope the Minister will re-visit the legislation and current penalties, as we know the Justice Minister is also keen on seeing appropriate penalties for animal cruelty offences.

Mr Gove touched on a huge range of issues and was adamant that this Government would leave the environment in better state than they inherited it. For example, he said that we need to do more to protect our oceans and committed to reducing plastics, microbeads and plastic bags, and to look at waste and other items entering the oceans. He talked about creating a ‘Blue Belt’ around the UK coast which would comprise the world’s largest number of marine protected areas, creating a huge marine sanctuary. This was excellent news for marine species.

Promisingly, he also said: “We need to take action to tackle the trade in illegal ivory.” When I pressed for further details about introducing a total ivory ban and a timeline for a consultation on the subject, he replied that the Government was committed to saving elephants and an announcement would be coming soon. This was good news and very encouraging – we’ll keep you posted as we learn more!

He refuted suggestions that the environment could be compromised to achieve global trade deals, saying: “We will not compromise on sustainability and animal welfare as we explore new trading opportunities.” He went on to say that he was “really encouraged of the buy in from other government departments and that the Prime Minister wants to see environmental policy at the heart of government.”

Michael Gove set out an ambitious vision in his speech which would protect our land, rivers, animals and oceans and said that a green Brexit could achieve this. “We must be champions of sustainable development, an advocate for global social justice, a leader in environmental science, a setter of gold standards in protecting and growing natural capital, an innovator in clean, green, growth and an upholder of the moral imperative to hand over our planet to the next generation in a better condition than we inherited it,” he concluded.

We hope these positive words will be backed up with real actions as we approach the 2018 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade and eagerly await the introduction of legislation for a total ivory ban, increasing prison sentences for animal welfare offences from six months to five years, as well as new sentencing guidelines for wildlife crime offences.  We now have to make sure the Secretary of State delivers on this vision with real changes and improvements, so that Britain remains a world leader on animal welfare and conservation issues.

Over to you Mr Gove….

--DC

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