The League Against Cruel Sports is shocked and concerned that MPs have voted against the inclusion of animal sentience within the EU Bill detailing the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. A positive vote would have transferred the principle that animals are sentient beings from EU law into UK legislation, after the UK leaves the European Union in early 2019.

Commenting on the announcement, Head of Policy and Research for the League, Jordi Casamitjana, said:

“UK animals appear to have become victims of Brexit, after Parliament decided not to guarantee that they are still considered "sentient beings" when the UK leaves the EU. This confirms our worst fears – that animals are now at risk of losing the vital legal protection afforded them, which has been so instrumental in securing their improved welfare.

“Animals as sentient beings was introduced in EU law in 2009 as part of the Lisbon Treaty, and is now universally accepted by the scientific community. Most animals, including humans, are not objects or "machine-like" organisms but fully sentient individuals with the ability to feel, perceive and experience subjectively – essentially they have the ability to feel pain and to suffer just like we do.

“Losing this recognition embarrassingly places our country behind in terms of animal protection, rather than at the vanguard, as we used to be and it is deeply concerning that it will not be preserved in UK law after Brexit as there is no other UK legislation currently recognising animals as sentient beings.”

As recognised in EU Law, sentience - an animal’s capacity to suffer and to feel and experience emotional and physical pain or distress – helps ensure improvements to the lives of billions of animals, both wild and domestic, as it makes it a legal requirement to pay full regard to their welfare.

As Britain's leading charity working to prevent animals being persecuted, abused and killed in the name of sport, the foxes, deer, hares, dogs, birds, horses and multitude of other domestic and wild species that we strive to protect, are relying on us to ensure their recognition as sentient beings is given the legal inclusion it deserves.

Around eighty per cent of animal welfare law in the UK currently comes from the EU. Ministers have said that sentience is covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, but it is not mentioned and the Act only really relates to domestic animals, not wild species. Therefore the loss after Brexit will leave a serious void – wild animals will no longer have the same protection and the Animal Welfare Act is insufficient in terms of sentience.

The League is calling on the Government to make animal welfare paramount in any future policy-making and to make clear urgently how it intends to ensure the sentience of all animals is given full recognition in UK law when we leave the EU.

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Notes to Editors

  • For more information or interview requests please contact the League Against Cruel Sports Press Office on 01483 524250 (24hrs) or email [email protected] 
  • The League Against Cruel Sports is Britain's leading charity that works to stop animals being persecuted, abused and killed for sport. The League was instrumental in helping bring about the landmark Hunting Act. We carry out investigations to expose law-breaking and cruelty to animals and campaign for stronger animal protection laws and penalties. We work to change attitudes and behaviour through education and manage sanctuaries to protect wildlife. Find out more about our work at www.league.org.uk. Registered charity in England and Wales (no.1095234) and Scotland (no.SC045533).