Will EU exit put a stop to live animal exports?

PUBLISHED: 12:00 07 May 2016

Live animal exports

Live animal exports


The trade has gained controversy in recent years

Farmers and animal welfare groups have poured cold water on claims that a Brexit would enable the UK to ban live animal exports.

The trade has proved a controversial one in recent years, with shipments heading to the continent from Ramsgate and Dover.

But according to George Eustice, minister of state for farming, food and the marine environment, European Union rules mean the government does not have the power to prevent livestock being transported to other countries to be slaughtered.

The Vote Leave campaign says some 49,712 live lambs and sheep were exported across the Channel in 2012, and claims many of these ended up in halal slaughterhouses in France, or were sent to third countries outside the EU with poor animal welfare regulations.

Mr Eustice claimed the EU rules are harming animals and run contrary to the views of most British


He said: “There is great public concern about the continued export of live lambs across the channel for slaughter.

“Some campaigners have argued that we should amend national legislation to introduce a targeted ban on some live exports from British ports.

“However, the EU has made clear that such a ban would be against EU law. If we were to leave the EU, a future British government would be free to consider introducing targeted restrictions of this sort on ethical grounds.”

In 2012, Thanet District Council tried to ban animal exports from Ramsgate following an incident in which more than 40 sheep had to be put down after being transported in unfit conditions.

It was forced to backtrack, however, when its actions were ruled to be a breach of EU free trade rules.

As a result, the council racked up a bill of almost £6m in damages and legal costs.

MP for South Thanet Craig Mackinlay is putting forward a ten minute rule bill in the House of Commons on May 10 to amend the harbours, docks, and piers clauses act 1847, so local councils have the power to ban live animal exports.

Doing so, he says, would prevent a repeat of the 2012 debacle and ensure taxpayers would no longer have to compensate foreign shipping


“What George is saying is entirely correct,” Mr Mackinlay said. “Local people should have the power to prevent such a trade.

“If we had a domestic law in place, it could be overturned at the free market level. This issue goes right to the heart of localism.”

However, animal welfare groups claim that a vote for Brexit would not necessarily lead to the end of the live animal trade.

Isobel Hutchinson, a campaign manager at Animal Aid in Tonbridge, told KoS the matter is not as straightforward as Vote Leave claims it to be.

“Even if we were to leave the European Union, it would still depend on political will, and the track record of the current government is very poor,” she said.

“In terms of the hunting act and the badger cull, for instance, it has a poor track record, and I would not be optimistic about them taking forward legislation on animals.

“Animal Aid is against all forms of cruelty and export by sea does not cause all of this suffering – there is also the issue of road accidents and the terrible distress that these journeys cause them.”

Her views were echoed by Peter Stevenson, chief policy adviser at Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), who also criticised the government’s record on animal welfare issues.

“The reason we have not had improvements in recent years is because there has been no appetite for improvements from the government or the farming industry, so it has not been the EU holding us back,” he said.

“CIWF is neither for nor against the EU, but if we left the EU, there would still be some hurdles.

“We would have to negotiate bilateral trade agreements with our former partners, and we would be governed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which is still quite strong, and we would have to present a good case to ban live exports.”

Mr Stevenson explained that a ban may be possible if the government could show the WTO that public sentiment in the UK was against live exports.

Kevin Attwood, Kent delegate for the National Farmers Union (NFU), suggested Mr Eustice was being disingenuous by suggesting Brexit would afford the UK more control over its exports.

“Our production methods allow us to produce lamb in a more competitive way than other EU countries, so the big issue is if we leave, will they allow us to export lamb in any form?” he said.

“It is a very misleading statement in terms of appealing to the animal rights lobby and not speaking as a farming minister within Defra.

“He is allowing his views on Brexit to colour his views on issues that fall within his ministerial post. He should be explaining how he imagines exports post-Brexit.

“If you look at our trade post-Brexit, if you are trying to negotiate along the Norway model, then clearly there is free movement of labour and trade, and most regulations and conditions will apply post-Brexit.

“If you are going to a world trade basis, then we would have to negotiate a whole set of conditions, not only with Europe but with the rest of the world as well.”

NFU spokesperson Frank Languish, a farmer who also runs a livestock transport business, said he did not anticipate much change in the event of Brexit.

“We will have to abide by the same rules and regulations and there is a much higher level of welfare written into those than there was in our old domestic legislation,” he commented.

“The best thing that needs to happen is for the big ferry companies to carry them again, because the speed they can operate at is good for the animals.”

Ferry firms rejected the trade due to a public backlash.

Keith Taylor MEP, the Green Party’s animals spokesperson and the vice-president of the EU’s animal welfare intergroup, opposes live animal exports but believes leaving the EU is not the solution.

“Not one post-EU scenario has produced a credible trade plan for Britain that would not include allowing access to the European Union’s 500-million-strong single market,” he said.

“Abiding by EU trade rules, including the respecting the principle of the free movement of trade, would be the cost of that access.

“Banning the trade outright looks, at best, unlikely, at worst, impossible, outside the EU. However, as a part of the EU, we have, at least, been able to push for tougher welfare protections for exported animals.

“The introduction of stronger

regulations that impose maximum journey times and better conditions that align with animal welfare

science could, effectively, bring about an end to live exports from the


What do you think? Share your views and join the debate. Write to The Editor, KoS, Kent House, 81 Station Road, Ashford, TN23 1PP, or email us at

1 comment

  • Correct, and i have letter from MP stating only EU laws prevent our banning this barbaric trade, so lets get a leader in who has a backbone, unlike Cameron who does not have one

    Report this comment

    Greta Khan

    Sunday, May 8, 2016

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