There is a social media storm over what was perceived as the rejection by the UK Parliament to incorporate a declaration in a EU treaty (The Lisbon Treaty – Article 13) that animals are sentient beings. The relevant section of the Lisbon Treaty is reproduced below:
“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.”
The UK government is currently debating an act, the EU Withdrawal Bill (the Bill), which will incorporate EU law into UK law when the UK leaves the EU. It is a wholesale incorporation of EU law into UK law. At the moment EU law in many ways governs the UK and it needs to be incorporated after Brexit because it is comprehensively intertwined into UK law.
MPs rejected the inclusion of the above clause into the Bill. This does not represent a rejection by Parliament that animals are not sentient beings. Animals are already recognised as sentient beings in the UK’s Animal Welfare Act 2006 but it does not do quite the same thing as the Lisbon Treaty.
The point is that Michael Gove has promised to change UK law after Brexit to clearly state that animals are sentient beings. Sentience means the ability to feel pain and have emotions. Gove says that Article 13 has failed in any case as it does not prevent animal abuse across the EU. Clearly the UK government have decided that they can do better.
Social media got the wrong end of the stick. Commenters on social media – Twitter and Facebook – stated that their Parliamentary representatives had rejected the idea that animals are sentient beings. This is not the case. It was felt that (a) the Bill was the wrong legislation for this declaration on animal sentience and (b) the EU Treaty was unclear and had been proved to be unsuccessful. The UK can do better and I expect the government will after we have left the EU.