What ‘Brexit’ means for animals – a personal view
At a live comedy night recently, the topic under discussion was immigration. Plucking up courage, I announced to the comedians and listening audience that I was an economic migrant. They didn’t really know what to say, because I ‘looked’ just like them, and I almost talked like one of them. Are Western Europeans not seen as migrants, I wondered, while those from Eastern Europe or Africa or Asia are viewed as being here to take ‘our’ jobs, houses and healthcare?
My job prospects are somewhat limited in The Netherlands. I was fortunate to work in further and higher education there for over four years at the start of my career, during which I was privileged to have worked for the political Party for the Animals (PvdD), in a voluntary capacity. However, England offers many more opportunities to help other animals, and I’m grateful for the jobs and experience I’ve gained here.
But I’ve recently been asked what I think about Brexit. Despite having paid taxes for nearly 12 years and contributing to UK society I am not allowed to vote in the referendum. Some would say that’s just one of the limitations of the EU, although the fact that people are free to move and work within the EU in the first place is certainly a blessing. (However it does feel slightly bizarre that I can still vote for Dutch referenda where I’m no longer based, on affairs I no longer know much about.)
Free movement of goods and services is generally very positive for the EU. The problem however, is that animals are seen as property, and are traded as ‘goods’. Would Brexit help or hinder animals in the EU? Article 13, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states:
“In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”
Better or worse animal protection legislation?
National governments may adopt more stringent rules provided they are compatible with the provisions of the Treaty, but Community legislation concerning the welfare conditions of farm animals lays down minimum standards.
The question is whether the UK would act any differently with regard to the treatment of animals, if it were no longer part of the EU. Nothing prevents the government from drafting stronger animal protection laws (or promote more vegan-friendly policies for that matter), at present. However, given the government’s track record, it might well, if the UK left the EU, reverse many animal protection regulations. As with so many questions relating to ‘Brexit’, ranging from economic security to what would happen to the 2 million Britons living abroad, the impact currently remains uncertain.
I am highly sceptical that the plight of other animals would be improved following a Brexit. EU legislation does often adopt the position of the lowest common denominator, but Member States can still introduce more progressive legislation in particular areas. For example, the UK is committed to spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on foreign aid. But the strong voice for animals that was once a driving factor behind EU (and UK) legislative change in the eighties and nineties, too often seems reduced to a whisper today. There may be quiet ‘official’ UK condemnation of whaling by Japan and Norway, or dog eating in Korea and China, but when it comes to the suffering and killing of hundreds of millions of ‘farmed’ and laboratory animals in the UK, the industry seems to be found in too many politicians’ pockets.
In, on balance
I am quite sure that, on balance, staying in the EU would be more beneficial for animals than leaving. Just having a voice at the negotiating table is priceless. Even though the current government’s animal advocacy voice has nearly disappeared, I am hopeful a more animal-friendly government will be elected within the next ten years. We must therefore remain in the EU, and hope that compassionate government returns to the UK sooner rather than later.
I did hear an interesting viewpoint yesterday. It is something many people have hardly heard of in the UK because most of the media and the government are doing such a brilliant job of keeping it quiet. 38 Degrees and some other social justice groups and political parties, such as the Green Party, have highlighted it for many months, but the public at large is unaware. This is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement between the USA and the EU, and its sister agreement for Canada ‘CETA’. TTIP means trouble on many levels, but is particularly disastrous for ‘farmed’ animals.
An animal friend said last night he would vote for Brexit to try to get rid of David Cameron, who is one of the main champions behind TTIP. I agree we should certainly support campaigns to stop TTIP, but I wonder whether a Brexit would do the trick. Suppose the UK left the EU, and the EU went ahead with TTIP without the UK (still a disaster for billions of animals). The UK would need to forge new trade deals, not only with the EU Member States, but also negotiate ‘bilateral’ agreements with the USA, Canada and so on. The Conservative government would happily replicate a TTIP-like deal with the USA. Would the Brexit have helped animals in that case? I believe it’s better to try to work with activists, advocates, and policy makers in other EU countries, rather than potentially being left out of key negotiations.
Regardless of the Referendum outcome, there is still a lot of hard work to do both in the UK and EU to educate consumers and citizens, to lobby policy makers, and to influence companies, to become more animal and vegan-friendly. We should join forces with our EU sisters and brothers!