We can’t allow Brexit to weaken our animal welfare laws

What will Brexit mean for animals?

It's official: almost a year since the hugely divisive Brexit vote, Article 50 (the Clause in the Treaty of Lisbon that officially starts the process of exiting the EU) is expected to be triggered on March 15th. 

For some Brexit offers hope, for others despair, but for wildlife and animals it continues to throw up massive uncertainty. 

I've spoken before about the challenges that Brexit could bring for animals. Around 80% of animal welfare laws in the UK have come from the EU and it’s critical that we retain these when the UK leaves the EU.

This week I attended the launch in Parliament of a 10 Point Plan for the protection of animals in the Brexit process, drafted by a coalition of leading animal and conservation charities including the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming, Cats Protection and One Kind.

The ‘Brexit and Animals’ plan has a heavy focus on farm animal welfare (not one of IFAW’s speciality areas) but also talks about wildlife and companion animals too. The plan wants the Government to ensure that wildlife legislation in the UK provides equivalent or higher levels of protection for animals’ habitats, conservation and welfare. Regarding cats, dogs and equines, it calls for a closure of loopholes that allow commercial traders moving animals to utilise rules designed for the public, a database for all imported dogs and cats and more stringent border checks.

At IFAW, our P.U.P.S campaign is working to drive out the illegal puppy trade, which in many cases brings animals into the UK from or via the EU. We’re raising consumer awareness and lobbying for a third party puppy sale ban, which would effectively mean you can’t sell a puppy unless the mother is present.

We share many of the concerns of this 10 Point Plan. Our priority is to ensure that we don't go backwards in our protection of animals and the environment.

On the other hand, Brexit could lead to opportunities for actually strengthening some of our legislation. For example, when it comes to laws concerning  the import of low welfare bred puppies for the puppy trade, blocking ports of entry for whale meat, and strengthening farm animal welfare standards, the reality is that some EU legislation is seen by Government as limiting for the UK, regardless of its importance.

But as of 15th March, when there will officially be just two years to come to a Brexit deal and suitable trading agreements, there’s a real and worrying risk that animal welfare and environmental issues could drop down the Government’s priority list.

Things like fisheries, agriculture and trade deals will, without a doubt, be high on the Government’s agenda. With Trump’s USA likely to be a substantial UK trading partner, alongside other non-EU nations, there is a real threat for animals, as farm animal welfare legislation in particular is often much weaker outside the EU. No one wants to see a two tier animal welfare system put in place in order to allow imports and exports from a wider sphere.

So, what can we do?

We can't, and we won't, just sit back and watch this happen. We're doing all we can to turn these risks into opportunities and to keep animal welfare and conservation firmly on the agenda. Ultimately we know that animals and the environment exist beyond politics and borders, so we will continue to be their voice - even if we're going to have to shout just that bit louder for the foreseeable future. 

--PM

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