Part I of a five-part series.
See also Part II: Farmed animals & the Brexit “diet plan” and
Part III: Farmed animals & money talks.
LONDON, U.K.––Will the June 23, 2016 decision by United Kingdom voters to leave the European Union end live exports of cattle and sheep, as some apparently hoped?
Or will the Brexit vote, as United Kingdom media dubbed it, open Britain to imports of seal pelts, bankrupt overseas animal charities funded by British donors, and bring about a collapse of EU animal welfare standards?
What if the U.K. itself breaks up?
In the most dramatic scenario, the United Kingdom itself might break up, with Scotland––which voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union––pursuing complete political independence, then further reinforcing what are already the strongest animal welfare laws within the U.K., perhaps in all of Europe.
Northern Ireland, which also voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union, might reunite with the Irish Republic.
Or United Kingdom voters might reconsider their decision in a re-vote, for which millions of voters have already petitioned, and which E.U. rules may require.
“Still a Brit & quite devastated”
Whatever happens, the Brexit vote took most of the animal welfare world as much by surprise as the rest of the world was surprised. Few pundits and prognosticators anywhere expected the 52%-48% split in favor of leaving the European Union, 42 years after the U.K. joined, following a 10-year campaign to be admitted.
“I am still a British citizen and quite devastated,” International Primate Protection League founder Shirley McGreal told ANIMALS 24-7 soon after the United Kingdom results were broadcast.
McGreal, then living in Thailand, formed IPPL, initially incorporated in the U.K., almost simultaneously with the U.K. entering the E.U.
Why U.K. joined the E.U. in the first place
The United Kingdom decision to join the E.U. accompanied growing recognition within the U.K., especially among a then younger electorate, that what remained of the British Commonwealth could no longer guarantee trading partners and prosperity.
The Brexit vote, passed largely through the support of the same generation of voters, appears to reflect disillusionment and nostalgia for an era when the Beatles, British-built sports cars, and the fictional character James Bond were taking the world by storm––and those voters themselves had the best years of their lives in front of them.
Today’s younger voters, who also form the strongest voices for improved animal welfare, mostly favored staying within the E.U.
Former U.K. prime minister David Cameron resigned soon after the Brexit vote, which he and most of the rest of the U.K. political establishment opposed.
RSPCA best prepared
“As you can imagine, with no prime minister, hardly a leader of the opposition, and no clear vision as to which side of the Brexit camp won,” among several competing political factions, it is all confused here,” Royal SPCA spokesperson David Bowles told ANIMALS 24-7.
But Bowles anticipated that the situation would soon become more clear. The U.K. is to choose a new prime minister by September 9, “leaving us until September 2018,” Bowles estimated, “to agree with the E.U. on our terms of disengagement.”
Among the major U.K. animal charities, the RSPCA appeared to be best prepared to respond strategically to the Brexit vote.
Neutral during referendum
“The RSPCA was neutral during the referendum and produced a briefing,” explained an extensive RSPCA response to the outcome, forwarded by Bowles. “The RSPCA can now campaign to ensure that animal welfare standards are not lowered as part of the process to leave the E.U. and that opportunities are taken to improve existing standards.
The corpus of European Union animal welfare law consists of 37 items in all, of which 12 “are directives which have already been implemented into existing legislation,” the RSPCA briefing observes. “These would need to be repealed if they are no longer required. Fifteen are regulations and decisions which are applicable on the U.K. without national implementation. Depending on how the U.K. exits the E.U., these may be automatically deleted on U.K. withdrawal unless Parliament legislates for them to remain.”
Rules still in effect
The RSPCA briefing suggested that perhaps, “All pre-existing laws,” on any topic, may “simply be carried over for amendment on a piecemeal basis.
Continued the RSPCA briefing, “The U.K. is still bound by those rules set by international bodies of which it is a member. These include trade rules, as set by the World Trade Organisation, which limit its ability to ban imports or exports or give any trade advantages to its own producers. So whilst it is true that E.U. rules prevent the U.K. banning live exports of farm animals or imports of puppies, it is likely that WTO rules would also prevent both of these actions. Should the UK agree to the single market rules any ban would not be possible anyway.”
Thus the widespread hope that the United Kingdom leaving the E.U. could mean the end of live exports of cattle and sheep will probably not be fulfilled.
80% of U.K. animal welfare laws from E.U.
Pointed out the RSPCA briefing, “Around 80% of U.K. animal welfare laws originate from the E.U. The RSPCA has worked actively to improve animal welfare within the E.U. since 1980, when it formed Eurogroup for Animals, the European animal welfare coordinator.”
Peter Davies, formerly director general of first the RSPCA and then the World Society for the Protection of Animals (now called just World Animal Protection), stepped down as Eurogroup for Animals president two days after the Brexit vote, succeeded by Danish Animal Protection Society chief executive Britta Riis.
“I do not want to give a professional or personal reaction to the U.K. decision to leave the European Union,” Davies told ANIMALS 24-7, “to avoid any suggestion of a conflict of interest.”
“A great loss for animal welfare”
Said Wim de Kok, founder of World Animal Net and a longtime employee of international animal welfare organizations including WSPA and Vier Pfoten, “I think Brexit will turn out to be a great loss for animal welfare in Europe. Brits have been a leading force for many years,” de Kok elaborated.
“I was campaigning in Brussels,” where the European Union is headquartered, “against the battery cage for laying hens,” de Kok recalled, “when the RSPCA founded and funded Eurogroup for Animals in 1980. People like Ruth Harrison,” whose 1964 book Animal Machines introduced political advocacy against factory farming, Cambridge University professor emeritus in animal welfare Donald Broom, and Barbara Castle, who served in the British Parliament from 1945 to 1979, “have had a tremendous influence on the progress in animal welfare legislation in the E.U.,” de Kok said.
British charities helped on the continent
“The RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming, British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, (Cruelty Free International), Born Free, Animal Defense International, and the League Against Cruel Sports all have enabled the less mobilized organizations on the continent to do better and to play on the European field,” de Kok continued. “They [the British-based animal charities] might want to continue in that role, but will no longer have their own members of the European Parliament or permanent representatives to ‘oil the machine.’”
Added Janice Cox of World Animal Net, who was formerly European director for WSPA, “I feel positively sick to my stomach with the [Brexit] result, having spent decades working in E.U. policy––in the U.K. government and then for various animal protection organizations, including as a European lobbyist for the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments. I have seen the massive amount of good that the U.K. (and other animal-friendly allies) brought about in Europe. The E.U. as a regional economic community now definitely leads the world in animal welfare.
“Positive influence will be missed”
“The U.K.’s positive influence on animal welfare in the E.U. will certainly be sorely missed,” Cox assessed. “But I also worry that if the U.K. suffers economic and competitive disadvantages through leaving, our own internal animal welfare standards may also suffer.”
Agreed Vier Pfoten chief executive Helmut Dungler, who is also a former WSPA board member, “The U.K. will largely lose its ability to influence animal welfare policy at the E.U. level. The U.K. will lose its say in the E.U. A number of U.K. members of the European Parliament were pro-animal welfare. Without their presence in E.U. decision-making processes, there are fears that welfare and protection standards across the E.U. could suffer, and that it could be more difficult to influence policy from an animal welfare perspective.”
Neither side answered inquiries
Offered the Centre for Animals & Social Justice in a written briefing, “The Vote Leave campaign didn’t respond to our query regarding their animal protection intentions. This doesn’t inspire confidence, though we should point out that the official Remain campaign didn’t bother to reply either. This lack of interest from both designated campaigns is a revealing clue to the broad disregard for animal protection across the British political establishment.
“Regardless of which party has been in power,” the Centre for Animals & Social Justice charged, “the British state has a long tradition of strongly backing profiteering over compassion. More animals have suffered more intensely in factory farms and research labs as successive governments have implemented E.U. laws as feebly as possible. Behind closed doors, industry and civil servants have worked together to weaken animal welfare protection, and elected politicians of all stripes have lacked the backbone to stand up to them. With the leading Brexit advocates calling for even more deregulation, power may shift further against animal protection.”
Two years to lobby
Predicted John Robins of Animal Concern Scotland, “It will probably be just over two years before the U.K. leaves the E.U., so we have two years to lobby the Scottish government to keep the best parts of E.U. animal welfare and conservation legislation. Then we have to work on getting improved legislation here while creating import barriers to anything reared or slaughtered below our standards.
“Even when we are outside the E.U.,” Robins said, “I don’t see any problem in our continuing to lobby the E.U. on animal related issues, just as we lobby countries around the globe on their treatment of animals.
Suggested Robins, “Perhaps international groups which have their headquarters in England will either relocate to the E.U. or open second offices within the E.U.?”
(Part I of a five-part series. See also Farmed animals & the Brexit “diet plan”, Farmed animals & money talks, What Brexit means for “pet passports” & lab animals, and Back to the Jungle Book: U.K. wildlife law post-Brexit.)