Advocates for Animals

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Blog: The Risks of Brexit to UK Animal Protection Laws


This week’s guest writer Claire Edwards (LLB), Head of Development for Planetary International, discusses animal welfare as the Brexit transition period comes to a close.

What will happen to our animal protection laws on Brexit day?

The UK Brexit transition period is due to end in just a few months time, on the 31st December 2020, and it is still unknown what this will mean for animal protection laws beyond this point. Whilst ‘The Great Repeal Bill’ aims to adopt existing EU legislation into UK Law, this will only be enacted ‘where practical’ (comments suggest just two-thirds of current legislation will be passed.) This approach risks lesser future protection for already threatened species, and it is currently unclear whether the UK will be required to comply with EU Environmental Protection Laws at all.

What problems could this present?

80% of our animal protection legislation comes from EU law. Yet, despite this statistic, there was no commentary on animal welfare included in the initial Withdrawal Agreement.

Due to this wealth of animal law that originates from the EU and the uncertainty of its future, it could mean certain protections are in danger, such as jeopardising protected habitats (nearly 900 sites exist in the UK under Natura 2000) or dilution of some of the highest farm animal welfare standards in the world. Farm protections, for example, are put at risk with the Government’s desire to become ‘world-leading’ in free trade. Farmers may be forced to compete with more cheaply produced imported goods, which often indicate lower welfare standards. This is just one example; the potential impact is vast and could affect marine area protection, fisheries, animal transportation and even testing. It is also feared that animal testing could be reintroduced within the UK f the Government seeks to attract trade from countries that still routinely experiment on animals.

Which approach is the UK likely to take?

Still unsettlingly vague, the apparent lack of consideration for animal protection law beyond Brexit means that our welfare standards and conservation efforts could either improve or decline. Whilst the Government will have the flexibility to build upon our current legal framework, without the EU to govern compliance, the UK will be just as free to change or reject completely those which conflict with prospective trade agreements – for example, with the United States, where standards are well below the current UK level (as explored through criticism of the Agriculture Bill).

81% of the British public do not want to see diluted animal welfare standards following Brexit, and charities are calling for Government commitment in writing to at least maintain current standards, so far to no avail. A new ‘Environment Bill’ is expected from Environment Secretary George Eustice by the 29th of September. Whilst this may address my earlier concerns, it is unlikely to resolve the latter. As December approaches, we will undoubtedly receive more clarity, but time is running out, and, at this late stage, it seems dubious that animal welfare or protection in any capacity will be prioritised.

We are grateful to everyone who contributes to the Advocates for Animals blog. Blogs should not be taken as legal advice nor do they necessarily reflect the views of the firm

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