Animal sentience

#AnimalSentience, and how long until it is no longer legally recognised?

On November 15th, co-leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, lead the House of Commons in a debate to introduce an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Its goal is to ensure that the EU Protocol on animal sentience is introduced into UK law upon our Brexit from the European Union at 11pm UK time on Friday 29 March, 2019.

After a three hour debate, the House voted down the amendment by 295 Ayes, to 313 Noes.

So, come the time of our eventual exit from the EU, the British people that fought so hard to introduce such a law, will no longer have it recognised.

But isn’t the whole point of the EU Withdrawal Bill to commit EU law into UK law?

Indeed, but there’s a problem. As Lucas puts it,

By way of background, in 1997—20 years ago—the UK Government, during their presidency of the EU, convinced the then 14 other member states that EU law should explicitly recognise that animals were sentient beings, and not simply agricultural goods like bags of potatoes that could be maltreated with impunity. In other words, it was a recognition that, like us, animals are aware of their surroundings; that they have the capacity to feel pain, hunger, heat and cold; and that they are aware of what is happening to them and of their interaction with other animals, including humans.

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 2009, the original protocol was incorporated into the Lisbon treaty as article 13 of title II. The Government have rightly and commendably committed to transferring all existing EU law on animal welfare into UK law under the Bill, but because the text of the Lisbon treaty is not transferred by the Bill, the wording of article 13 on animal sentience will not explicitly be incorporated into UK law. As things stand, despite having one of the longest-standing animal welfare laws in the world—something of which we are rightly proud—the UK has no legal instrument other than article 13 of the Lisbon treaty to provide that animals are sentient beings.


OK. So, does that mean when we leave the EU next year, animal sentience will no longer be legally recognised in the UK?

In the absence of any other laws incorporating the concept into UK law, yes.

But, didn’t I hear someone say there’s existing law that covers animal sentience adequately?

Well, it was mentioned by Dominic Raab, Minister of State for Courts and Justice,

I can reassure Caroline Lucas that it is already recognised as a matter of domestic law, primarily in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. If an animal is capable of experiencing pain and suffering, it is sentient and therefore afforded protection under that Act. [src]

but Lucas was unimpressed, responding that,

I am disappointed by the Minister’s response to new clause 30. It is not good enough to claim that animal sentience is already covered by UK law by virtue of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 since the protocol is not even explicitly included or referred to in that Act and the word “sentience” does not appear anywhere in it. The Act applies only to companion animals—domestic pets. It does not apply to farm animals, wildlife or laboratory animals. [src]


Animal sentience really won’t be legally recognised upon Brexit, then?

Not necessarily.

Oliver Letwin (Con., West Dorset) mentioned,

In fact, I think [the legal introduction of animal sentience] is much better that it should be an environment Bill, [src]

He goes on to explain,

because an environment Bill gives the scope and opportunity to determine these things in much more detail and much more carefully, and gives the House, rather than what we have now—two and a half hours, not all of which will be spent on this topic—days and weeks of consideration in both Houses. That is the right way to do long-term environmental legislation.

This sentiment is not without merit, but obfuscates the time available to introduce and pass an environment Bill. With Brexit occupying much of the legislative agenda over the next year and a half, it is difficult to see how an entirely new Bill could be drafted and passed before the clock runs out on our EU membership. This would ultimately lead to animal sentience no longer being legally recognised.

As Lucas pointed out,

I am not for a moment suggesting that the result of our not closing it would be that we all suddenly went out and started murdering kittens—no one is suggesting such a thing—but I am saying that this is an important protocol. It was important enough for the British Government to use all their influence in the EU to have it included in the Lisbon treaty, and we should continue to have it in UK law. [src]

It should also be noted that Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Michael Gove, nodded assent to Letwin’s assertion, “that the possibility of proper environmental legislation in the form of a new statute is on his mind”, but that no time frame has been outlined for such a Bill’s passing.

Sounds ominous. Who would vote against such an amendment?

I’m glad you asked.


Wowzers! I can see my MP in that list.

Then click on the corresponding link, and let them know you expect a comprehensive environment Bill by the time we exit the EU in…