Brexit: sliding backwards or grasping a brighter future for animals?

Around 80% of the laws that protect our animals come from the EU and, as Brexit looms, it’s time for the government to set out its vision for how it’s going to protect animals going forward. The public, as well as politicians from all political parties, are asking the government to seize the opportunity to deliver step change improvements.

Detailed proposals have already been put forward by the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation and a consortium of animal welfare charities including the League Against Cruel Sports, RSPCA, and the Dogs Trust, working with the Association of Lawyers for Animal Welfare, to develop proposals that include protections for every animal from domestic pets, to wildlife and those that are abused through sport. It’s heartening to see the scale of agreement about what needs to be done and the commitment to securing the best possible outcomes.

One area where we’re all hoping for some serious changes is on the criteria used to pay subsidies to farmers. Farmers shouldn’t be paid simply for owning land – so called ‘slipper farmers’ – like those who own vast grouse moors but don’t actually farm. Not only is it ridiculous in the eyes of the taxpayer but there’s substantial evidence to link driven grouse shooting estates to wildlife crime and the intensive persecution of our native birds of prey like the Hen Harrier. There’s also compelling scientific evidence on the negative environmental impact of how grouse moors are managed to ensure the survival of just one creature: the grouse they want to shoot. Other animals like hares, foxes and badgers are eradicated in an effort to maximise the number of grouse often using snares - indiscriminate and inhumane - to eliminate any animal that happens across the moor.

George Eustice, the minister responsible at Defra, is looking at alternative subsidies linked to delivering benefits for the public. We’d like to see payments linked to high standards of animal welfare, protecting wildlife and good environmental practices. Let’s hope he comes forward with robust proposals that reflect the public’s concern about animal welfare.

But we mustn’t be naïve; the path ahead isn’t smooth. There are those who’ll try to use Brexit as an opportunity to lower welfare standards; and those who’ll duplicitously argue for changes to improve protections whilst deliberately undermining them.

What is clear is that the British people want better protection for animals and it’s the government’s job to deliver it. Let’s hope the government opts for a brighter future!

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