Brexit: did MPs vote against animal sentience?

Alexandra Sadler discusses accusations the Government voted against the idea that animals are sentient and can feel pain.

Alexandra Sadler
4th December 2017
Those who have pets would be the first to vouch for animal sentience!

The incorporation of animal sentience into EU law, via the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, was hailed as a great success by animal welfare campaigners. However, the recent vote in Parliament about the inclusion of the animal sentience provision in the EU Withdrawal Bill has recently come under fire, with suggestions being made that the government does not care about animal rights.

It has also been suggested that the government does not recognise animal sentience, the capacity of animals to feel pain and suffering. If we’re being honest, there’s probably a few people that don’t recognise animal sentience, despite scientific studies providing multiple pieces of evidence to support the existence of animal sentience.

Whether or not the government actually recognises the existence of animal sentience, this vote is particularly important, as it doesn’t just show a seeming lack of care for other creatures, but also Britain’s claim at being a state well-known for animal health and welfare, and scientific analysis.

By usda [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Britain cannot claim to be at the forefront of scientific research if we don’t protect science that has already been established. As Marie Curie stated “after all, science is essentially international”, and Brexit threatens the scientific community. The animal sentience bill represents a fraction of international scientific cooperation, but nevertheless is still an important indicator.

Whether or not they actually believe in said certainty, what is most important is that by rejecting this provision, MPs also disregarding the most basic of scientific certainties, simply because they think they know best. The 2006 Animal Welfare Act does not specifically mention animal sentience, leaving a potential loophole for those who wish to abuse animals.

Some Conservative MPs have branded the claims of the government not recognising animal sentience as ‘fake news’, with Michael Gove arguing the UK will be able to better protect animals once we leave the EU. However, what Mr Political Chameleon seems to forget is that, by voting down the inclusion of this provision, he’s failing to abide by his commitment to prioritise animal rights during Brexit.

How will Brexit affect the welfare of animals?

Despite ministers’ claims of Brexit being an opportunity to improve the welfare of animals, the Bill suggests the exact opposite. By failing to include this provision in Britain’s withdrawal, the MPs that voted against its inclusion, and the government in particular, appear to lack compassion and consideration for other sentient beings.

Brexit is complicated, and animal rights may not be seen as the most important issue, but the denial of animal sentience inclusion in the EU Withdrawal Bill is indicative of a larger issue. Those who voted against its inclusion are sending a message of rejection, rejecting the importance of a basic scientific principle, and of its impact. Sure, MPs aren’t necessarily rejecting the existence of animal sentience, but the rejection of this provision suggests a lack of care for other beings, and for Britain’s international scientific standing.

Britain’s international standing is ever-decreasing, and the rejection of the most basic of scientific understandings as important only serves to hasten its decline. 

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