Brexit – One Year Later

Has leaving the EU been a help or a hindrance to animal welfare in the UK?


The UK officially left the European Union on 1 January 2021, but what did this mean for animals? Previously governed by EU law, the UK Government adhered to over 40 animal welfare laws relevant to farmed, wild and companion animals. Throughout Brexit negotiations the UK Government made several commitments regarding animal welfare, including promises to ban primates as pets, crack down on trophy hunting imports and end live animal exports for fattening and slaughter.

Now that one year has passed, we’re contemplating whether Brexit has paved the way for the UK to be a trailblazer in animal welfare legislation, or are we now stuck in the shadows of our EU counterparts?

A step in the right direction 

Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill

In April 2021, England and Wales increased the maximum prison sentence a person can receive for animal cruelty from six months to five years. As well as a five-year prison sentence, offenders of serious crimes including abuse of puppies and kittens and gross neglect of farm animals can also receive an unlimited fine. These new sentencing rules on animal cruelty are some of the toughest in Europe.

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill

Animal sentience refers to the ability for an animal to experience feelings such as pain, fear, enjoyment and comfort. Understanding and recognising animal sentience is important to help identify the needs of animals and to ensure that their welfare needs are met. 

Since leaving the European Union, the UK no longer recognises animals as sentient beings (previously covered by Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty), which means that animals have lost a key legal protection since their welfare needs must no longer be considered in government policy making. We’ve been shining a spotlight on this important issue and we’re delighted that the UK Government is now progressing the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill through the Houses of Parliament. The legislation has already evolved to include animals such as octopuses and lobsters, and we will continue to feed into the Bill’s progression to secure a robust and all-encompassing law that puts animal welfare first.

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill

This newly introduced Bill addresses a number of overarching animal welfare issues including the keeping of primates as pets, the importation of dogs, cats and ferrets into the UK, live exports of farm animals and amendments to the Zoo Licensing Act. Whilst such a broad Bill may sound promising, it is paramount that we ensure animal welfare is dutifully considered throughout.

In its current state, the Bill falls short in several areas:

  • The UK Government are proposing a licensing system that will allow individuals to continue to keep, breed and trade in primates rather than an outright ban.
  • The proposed limit on the number of dogs that can be imported has been set at five which would still allow litters of illegally bred puppies to enter the UK undetected.
  • We have submitted evidence outlining what amendments are needed to strengthen the Bill and we will continue to use our voice as this legislation progresses through Parliament.
Animal Charity

What are we yet to achieve? 

Free Trade Agreements

For the first time in 47 years, the UK Government has the autonomy to negotiate independent trade deals. In October 2021 the UK Government launched the new Trade and Agriculture Commission tasked with providing scrutiny to new trade deals to help ensure British agricultural standards are upheld. Shockingly, not a single animal welfare expert has been included on this newly formed panel. With the Australia trade deal being agreed upon recently, we fear that products sourced from low standard animal welfare practices such as barren battery cages for chickens and sow stalls for pigs will soon be stocked on our supermarket shelves.

As a member of the Trade and Animal Welfare coalition (TAWC), we will continue to work on this topic by performing our own scrutiny and producing our own recommendations to the commission.

Trophy Hunting

In the 2019 Queen’s speech, a law was promised that would ban the import of barbaric hunting trophies. Whilst FOUR PAWS UK submitted evidence in both January 2020 and September 2021 detailing why this cruel practice must end, the legislation has sadly been postponed yet again. Every week that this legislation is stalled, more animals are being needlessly killed to be mounted on a wall as a souvenir and hunters remain callously indifferent to the life lost.

Whilst no timeline has been provided, the Government have committed to an extensive ban that will be one of the toughest in the world. The proposed ban will protect nearly 7,000 species, including thousands of endangered and threatened species such as lions, rhinos, elephants and polar bears. We welcome these exciting commitments and hope to see this legislation brought to fruition in 2022.

Fur Free Britain

FOUR PAWS has worked to end the fur trade ever since we were founded in 1988.Although fur farming has been banned in the UK since 2000, according to the latest Government statistics we still import £50-£70 million of fur annually. This equates to around two million animals being killed each year just for so-called British fashion.

That’s why we have been tirelessly campaigning for a #FurFreeBritain. In April 2021, we handed in over 1,000,000 signatures to Number 10 Downing Street calling on the Government to ban the sale and import of all fur in the UK. Two months later, we called on you to use your voice and tell the UK Government why fur is wrong through a public consultation, and we were delighted to see the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) receive over 30,000 responses with 95% supporting a ban of fur imports.

Despite all of this, legislation that would affect a ban remains no more than an empty promise. We will continue to fight for a #FurFreeBritain and we hope to follow in the steps of Israel who made headlines in 2021 by becoming the only country who has introduced this law to date.

Animal Welfare Labelling

New trade deals bring a swathe of concerns about importing products that are produced to lower animal welfare standards than our own, such as the possibility of chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef appearing in our stores.

After contributing to the consultation on mandatory labelling of animal products, we hope to see new legislation that will provide buyers like you with true transparency so that you can make informed choices on the animal products you buy.

Since Brexit we have had the promise and introduction of some very exciting new legislation for animals, but there is still a long way to go for the UK Government to be the leader in animal welfare that it claims to be. We will continue to advocate on behalf of animals and will need you to use your voice to push the UK Government to deliver on their promises.

Animal Charity

Rebecca Dharmpaul

Campaigns Officer

Becky works in the Campaigns Team at FOUR PAWS UK, managing our Make Food Kinder and Dog Cat Meat Trade campaigns. She has a background in Zoology and animal welfare within sanctuaries, with over five years experience across several animal non-profits to aid in the protection of animals, both in the UK and internationally.

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