If you are short of time (and UK-based), just complete this one action!
Tell your local MP to make sure that animal sentience is protected in a meaningful way after Brexit!
You can use the following tool and my suggested message template below to do so. Make sure that you select your MP, rather than local councillors.
I will start with the actions which can currently be taken, for the time-constrained, but detail my thoughts and reasons below, for those who are interested.
Useful actions which can currently be taken
At the moment, there are 4 different types of actions that can be undertaken by the public to make it more likely that animal sentience will be included in EU Withdrawal Bill. These are mostly limited to UK residents.
1. Lobbying MPs and the government to make sure that animal sentience is protected in a meaningful way after Brexit, however that might be.
Tell your local MP to make sure that animal sentience is protected in a meaningful way after Brexit! You can use the following tool to do so, but make sure that you select your MP, rather than local councillors.
I recommend that you base your communications on this suggested letter template, but that you take some time to personalise the message (this will make them read it more thoroughly):
Letter or email template:
Dear [YOUR MP’s NAME],
I am writing to you to ask that you speak up to ensure that animal sentience is protected in a meaningful way after Brexit.
Conservative and DUP MPs rejected Caroline Lucas’ amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, which would have required that, “since animals are sentient beings” the UK would “pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”.
I recognise that this forms part of a wider debate around Brexit, but the interests of animals must not be ignored.
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 “makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any domestic or captive animal”, but this does not apply to farmed animals in practice. Since these animals, as much as our beloved pets, are sentient beings, they also need to be protected from “unnecessary suffering”. Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty has done this to some extent so far.
Please speak to your colleagues about this issue, so that we can ensure that animal sentience is protected in a meaningful way after Brexit, however that might be. It is absolutely crucial – for the sake of millions of animals, who cannot speak for themselves – that the government makes a firm commitment on how it will address this issue.
Second action: Tweet @michaelgove and/or @DavidDavisMP, asking them to make sure that animal sentience is protected in a meaningful way after Brexit!
@MichaelGove Brexit is a complicated issue, but the interests of animals must not be ignored. The government needs to make a firm commitment on how it will ensure that animal sentience is protected in a meaningful way after Brexit!
2. Writing letters to the editors of newspapers or other news outlet, so that they are then published in debate or readers contributions sections.
In some sense, this may help to apply public pressure and make it more likely that politicians will feel that there is significant public demand for change (if they read the editorials, or if word indirectly reaches them).
More directly, however, this is just good opportunity to get people to discuss animal issues in a positive manner and make people think more about animals as sentient beings. The rejection of the amendments makes the issue topical. To make your letter even more up-to-date, and therefore more likely to be published, you could refer to recent developments, such as the creation of the demonstration scheduled for 5th December, or any minor updates that may occur as a result of further debate in the House of Commons.
There are many good places to get tips on how to write letters to editors effectively. One good source for this is written by Tobias Leenaert, here.
3. Tell people about the issues, and encourage them to take the actions above! This might be on social media, but person-to-person conversations are probably more likely to result in people taking action.
4. OPTIONAL: Although it is a complicated issue, some groups are advocating simply transferring Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty over to UK law, through the EU Withdrawal Bill. If you are interested in finding out where you stand on this issue, you may like to read some of the information below.
First action: Sign the two online petitions which have been created, encouraging Article 13 from the Lisbon Treaty to be carried over into UK law, as the upcoming parliamentary amendments suggest.
Second action (open to international supporters): sign Compassion In World Farming’s petition to Michael Gove, here.
Third action: email David Davis MP, Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the EU and Lesley Griffiths AM, Welsh Government to ensure animal welfare is not left behind. You can use the RSPCA’s email tool and template here.
Note that in the background, animal rights activists will also be working to create a clearer, unified set of demands to the government.
Some will also be working lobby the members of the House of Lords, to ensure their support when the EU Withdrawal Bill reaches them. In the near future, I will update this post with some further tips about how to contact peers (in the House of Lords) to build support there, if needs be. If you want to get proactive on this issue too, then you can use this list to contact them.
The details of what has happened
On the 15th November, MPs voted to reject the inclusion of a clause that would transfer the recognition of animal sentience into UK law after Brexit.
Animal Sentience was already set out in Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon Treaty. It reads:
“In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”
An amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill was proposed by Caroline Lucas of the Green Party to include this.
“EU Protocol on animal sentience”, “obligations and rights contained within the EU Protocol on animal sentience set out in Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon Treaty shall be recognised and available in domestic law on and after exit day, and shall be enforced and followed accordingly.”
The New Clause was rejected with an 18 majority for the Government. 313 against, 295 in favour.
Why the original amendment failed
It seems that government’s main argument is that this is already covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 “makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any domestic or captive animal”, but this does not apply to farmed animals in practice. Since these animals, as much as our beloved pets, are sentient beings, they also need to be protected from “unnecessary suffering”. Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty has done this to some extent so far.
Oliver Letwin (a Conservative MP) noted that Michael Gove was planning to introduce new environmental legislation at some point, suggesting that this might be a better place for the suggestions of some of the amendments than the EU Withdrawal Bill. There are, however, no current guarantees that this would happen, or that it would include animal sentience.
All the Conservative and DUP MPs present voted against all the amendments proposed (while all opposition MPs present voted against), so I suspect it was just a whip issue to speed it up through parliament and avoid criticism of the withdrawal bill as a whole, which might have damaged Brexit negotiations.
There is still hope
There are three separate routes through which animal sentience might still be protected.
Firstly, there are two other amendments to the bill which seek to protect animals’ sentience, and are yet to be voted on, so MPs can still have an impact:
Amendment 350, put forward by Labour: This is set to be voted on either December 12th or 19th, although this is not guaranteed and the date could change (I’m currently waiting to find out how to keep an eye on this).
New Clause 28, put forward by MP Kerry McCarthy (Labour): Overall, “this new clause ensures that public authorities carrying out their duties arising by virtue of this act, must have regard to environmental principles currently enshrined in EU law.” Importantly, however, the new clause reiterates the exact wording for Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty.
These two issues are set to be voted on either December 12th or 19th, although this is not guaranteed and the date could change.
MPs could therefore still be lobbied or persuaded to encourage support for these amendments.
Alternatively there is still time for a government amendment to be introduced, and this would have more chance of gaining wider support, and passing through the House of Commons.
As a minister at DEFRA, Michael Gove also has the ability to table a government-backed amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Previously, when asked, in the Commons in July, if Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty would be included, Mr Gove told MPs: “Absolutely.” He added: “It is an absolutely vital commitment that we have to ensure that all creation is maintained, enhanced and protected.” (This quote was reported in an article by the Independent here.)
Gove may therefore be susceptible to pressure to introduce an amendment.
David Davis MP, as the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, may also be susceptible to pressure.
MPs could also be lobbied or persuaded to encourage support for these amendments.
When the EU Withdrawal Bill goes to the House of Lords, there is another opportunity to make sure animal sentience continues to be recognised in the UK.
The House of Lords will not have the same political split and enforcement of voting by the party whips which clearly led to the government rejecting the initial amendment. This seems likely to have been the case, since all Conservatives present (except Ken Clarke) voted against the amendment, and since all the amendments in the session were rejected by a similar margin.
Peers are not subject to public pressure like MPs, since they are not directly elected. This makes them harder to lobby. Lobbying peers will therefore likely need to be conducted sensitively by pressure groups with insider knowledge (such as the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming) and through All Party Parliamentary Groups (there is a list here of all APPGs, including one on animal welfare)
Rather than bring across Article 13 from the Lisbon Treaty, the Animal Welfare Act could be improved, so that animal sentience of all animals (farmed and wild, as well as domestic) could be protected.
This could actually be far more meaningful a protection for animals than Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty is. This would avoid the partisan issues of trying to sabotage the Brexit process.
The key message here is that even if Article 13 is not brought into UK law, the issue of animals’ sentience – and their protection – cannot be sidelined.
MPs could therefore still be lobbied or persuaded to encourage a firm commitment by the government to introduce meaningful legislation to protect animals.
As the relevant government ministers, Michael Gove and David Davis could be pressured to introduce meaningful legislation to protect animals.
Entirely new legislation could be created, most likely through some sort of environment bill.
This would likely have the same effects as altering the Animal Welfare Act.
There is also some precedent to suggest that the government – or Parliament – may be susceptible to public pressure. One example is the change over National insurance. This was set to rise in the last Conservative budget. Concerns were raised that it would squeeze the self-employed and public pressure helped to encourage its abandonment.
There have also been other examples of government U-turns. For one list of examples, see this article.
Accordingly, please follow as many of the actions listed above as you have time to complete!
What will be best for animals going forward?
It is unclear whether Article 13 is in itself the best legislation for protecting animals.
Caroline Lucas says it has informed further EU law since it’s passing: “The resulting protocol, which came into force in 1999, changed how animals were regarded and ensured that future EU legislation was not implemented on the basis of the lowest standards of animal welfare, but that it took animal sentience into account. That understanding has since informed more than 20 pieces of EU law on animal welfare, including the ban on sealskin imports, the ban on conventional battery cages and the ban on cosmetics testing on animals.”
In contrast, Luke Steele, Campaign Strategist at PETA UK, writes: “Foie gras, fur farming, bull fighting and live exports are just some of the plainly obvious abuses of animals which the European Union allows to be exempt from the Lisbon Treaty, the international agreement which recognises animals as sentient. Not only does permitting the most indefensible cruelties to be inflicted on animals betray the very notion of sentience, but it also shows how downright ineffective the agreement is. Lip-service legislation does nothing in practical terms to enhance the lives of animals.” He suggests, therefore, that a complete change of legislation would be preferable.
Furthermore, the issue is hugely complicated by wider debate around Brexit. The fact that Lucas’ amendment was voted for by all opposition MPs present, and rejected by all government MPs present, reflects that the issue has been subsumed into a wider debate.
Many (probably most) MPs and members of the government do believe in animal sentience. Indeed, there are Conservatives on the All Party Parliamentary Groups for animal welfare and for vegetarianism/veganism. This further suggests that the disagreement is more about technicalities and wider political disagreement than it is about a conflict over animal sentience.
In support of this point, here is (an extract from) a reply that one Conservative MP wrote to one of their constituents: “There is no question that animals have feelings – the fact that they do is self-evident and undeniable. We voted against an unnecessary amendment that would do more harm than good in creating legal confusion around an already adequate piece of legislation.”
Nevertheless, the government must be persuaded to act; we cannot allow the animal sentience issue and the protection of animals to be side-lined by a wider political dispute.
The government is therefore probably more susceptible to general public pressure that the government must act in a meaningful way to protect animals after Brexit, than it is susceptible to public pressure to support specific amendments.
Meanwhile, animal advocacy organisations will be working towards creating a more unified set of asks to the government.