It has been widely reported that MPs voted against recognising animals as sentient beings, which is not the case. The sentience of animals is self-evident. Rather, MPs voted against a specific amendment to the EU Withdrawal bill which was considered totally insufficient for animal protection. As such, the Government will deliver a better result using a different route.
The UK has some of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world – higher than any other country in Europe – and the Government has delivered a series of animal welfare reforms in recent months, demonstrating its commitment to sustaining and enhancing animal welfare protections outside of the EU. These include legislating to make CCTV coverage in slaughterhouses mandatory, and increasing the legal penalties for animal cruelty. In Prime Minister's Questions today, Theresa May restated her commitment to building in tighter animal welfare protections as we leave the EU.
It is important to recognise that in respect of animal welfare, EU law is no panacea. It is possible to keep farm animals in unspeakably cruel conditions without breaking EU law, which has not stopped Spanish bull fighting, Dutch veal farms, or French fois gras. As a number of Conservative MPs have emphasised, EU should not be the Government's benchmark; rather, it must aspire to do better.
Based on the Animal Welfare Act the Animal Protection Index, maintained by World Animal Protection, rates the UK's formal recognition of animal sentience as grade A. Other Lisbon Treaty signatories such as France, Italy and Spain do not enjoy this rating, having each received grade C.
The EU Withdrawal Bill will convert the existing body of direct EU animal welfare laws into UK laws. Most of these EU laws relate to farmed animals and many were passed after Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) came into effect.
Article 13 of the TFEU created a qualified obligation on the EU and Member States "to have full regard to the welfare of animals [as they are sentient beings]" when formulating and implementing EU law. The Government has said that it will consider how the 'animal sentience' principle of Article 13 might be explicitly reflected in the UK once it leaves the EU.