RESPONDING to the public outcry over the removal the EU's 'animal sentience' clause from Britain's Brexit Bill, Defra this week published draft legislation of its own, requiring the UK to “have regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings in formulating and implementing government policy”.

Announcing the move, Defra minister Michael Gove claimed that the new draft Bill actually goes further than the animal welfare-related Article 13 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, as it would apply to all areas of UK policy, rather than specified areas of policy. If passed, the law would also apply to the whole of the UK.

Mr Gove said: “As we leave the EU we will deliver a Green Brexit, not only maintaining but enhancing animal welfare standards. Animals are sentient beings who feel pain and suffering, so we are writing that principle into law and ensuring that we protect their welfare.

“Our plans will also increase sentences for those who commit the most heinous acts of animal cruelty to five years in jail," he added. "We are a nation of animal lovers so we will make Brexit work not just for citizens but for the animals we love and cherish too.”

Responding to the announcement, British Veterinary Association president John Fishwick said: “Vets have been clear in our calls that the duty on the state to have due regard for animal welfare – as captured in Article 13 of the EU Lisbon Treaty – must be enshrined in UK law. This Bill captures the substantive obligation that Article 13 currently puts on the national government to consider animal welfare, as well as explicitly recognising animals as sentient beings.

“Today’s draft Bill lays out in black and white the Government making good on its promises, to ensure the UK remains a global leader in animal welfare post-Brexit.”

Mr Fishwick added: “BVA has been at the forefront of this conversation, speaking out for our members on BBC Radio 4’s agenda-setting Today programme, coordinating a 1200-strong Open Letter to the Daily Telegraph with the British Veterinary Nursing Association as well as having behind-the-scenes conversations with MPs and civil servants. This is a real win at national level for the veterinary professions.”

Compassion in World Farming’s director of campaigns, Emma Slawinski, commented: “Compassion warmly welcomes the Government's response to our supporters and the many others who urged retention of animal sentience in British law.

"The duty on Government to pay regard to the fact that animals are sentient beings when formulating and implementing policy is an important legal principle and we welcome the announcement that this will continue to be a cornerstone of our animal welfare laws as we leave the EU. This is a victory for Britain's animals and we are delighted that Mr Gove has listened.”

The draft Bill will be subject to consultation, whereafter the Government intends to legislate to deliver both aims.