House of Commons Library

Animal Sentience and Brexit

Published Monday, July 8, 2019

The Government is reviewing the recognition of animal sentience and the need for UK legislation after Brexit. It has also announced it will legislate to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences.

Jump to full report >>

The EU Withdrawal Act 2018 did not include provision to transfer the principle contained in Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty recognising animals as sentient beings into UK legislation. This raised concerns amongst animal welfare campaigners as UK law, under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, does not explicitly recognise the term although it does acknowledge that animals can experience suffering and pain.

There were several unsuccessful amendments during the EU Withdrawal Bill Committee stage in the Commons, aimed at including the principle in the Bill. The Government did not support this, stating instead that it would consider how it might explicitly reflect the sentience principle in wider UK legislation.

Following the debate the Government made a statement setting out that “the sentience of animals will continue to be recognised and protections strengthened when we leave the EU”. The Government announced on 12 December 2017 that it would be introducing legislation to recognise animal sentience and introduce tougher sentencing for animal cruelty offences. At the same time it published a short three clause draft Bill, explanatory notes and consultation. The consultation closed on 1 February 2018. Following scrutiny of the draft Bill the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recommended that the Bill be split to allow “the ‘problematic concepts in the existing Clause 1 [on animal sentience] to be better defined”.

The Government published the consultation response on 7 August 2018. On animal sentience the Government would continue to work on the issue with the intention of introducing any necessary legislation before the UK leaves the EU. It also announcing that it would legislate to increase the maximum sentences for animal cruelty offences as soon as Parliamentary time became available. The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill was published on 26 June 2019.


Commons Briefing papers CBP-8155

Author: Elena Ares

Topics: Animal experiments, Animal welfare, Animals, EU law and treaties

Share this page

Stay up to date

  • Subscribe to RSS feed Subscribe to Email alerts Commons Briefing papers

House of Commons Library

The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff.