UK government puts animal welfare policies on pause
Helen Horton
20th January 2022

Delayed legislation includes ban on trophy hunting imports and stricter sentences for puppy thieves.

Some of the government’s most prized new animal welfare policies are being put on pause in what supporters see as a sneaky attempt to ditch the “woke” measures altogether.

Senior sources in the Conservative party have confirmed to the Guardian that a series of policies including a ban on trophy hunting importsstricter sentences for puppy thieves and a ban on live exports of livestock have been put on pause after a campaign led by Mark Spencer, the chief whip.

The minister responsible for the policies, Zac Goldsmith, is understood to have heard the news just before taking off on a flight to Ecuador.

Spencer, who is a farmer, is understood to be less than keen on the animal-friendly policies touted by Boris Johnson and his influential friends including his wife, Carrie, and Lord Goldsmith.

Others within the party, in rural constituencies, have privately complained that the animal welfare policies have been campaigned for by people who live in cities, and that it has made them unpopular with landowning, shooting donors and voters.

Many backbenchers hope the next Tory leader is unlikely to continue with the legislation as it is unpopular with influential figures in the party.

Allies of Johnson have told the Guardian that the policies are “as good as dead” if the prime minister faces and loses a vote of no confidence.

Goldsmith said: “It’s not just that the future of government is uncertain. So too is continued leadership on climate and nature. The measurable truth is that we are now world leaders and have moved things massively on nature – abroad and here (with much more to come) If this PM goes, that very likely ends.”

A senior MP who has called for Johnson to resign but supports the animal welfare legislation took a more balanced view. The MP said: “This could be a sort of attempt to coerce the parliamentary party into thinking ‘we have to keep Johnson because otherwise we won’t get the animal welfare legislation’.

“We are keeping an eye on it, and certainly will not be supporting any leadership challenger who does not plan to quickly move this legislation through parliament. The thought has crossed all of our minds that another leader might try and dilute the legislation. We have to fight hard against that.”

The influential Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, which includes Carrie Johnson, Dominic Raab and Lord Goldsmith among its patrons, plans to throw its weight behind any challenger who backs the welfare legislation.

Sir Roger Gale, the MP for North Thanet and a spokesperson for the group, said: “We’d be looking for undertakings from any future leader that they would support this legislation. We would be looking for support for the excellent programme of animal welfare legislation the public voted for in the 2019 manifesto.”

Friends of Spencer said he was grumbling about the animal sentience bill, which passed in the Commons on Tuesday night, as many farmers believe it could make their lives more difficult and cause welfare standards to be raised on farms. The bill has come under fire from backbenchers as it enshrines in law the feelings of animals including lobsters and fish. There are beliefs that this could harm the fishing industry and that it could turn off traditional Tory voters who see such policies as “woke”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Animal welfare is an absolute priority for this department. We are getting on with the job, and just last night the sentience bill passed in the House of Commons.”

Animal welfare campaigners previously criticised the government for delaying a law that will clamp down on trophy hunting and prevent people from buying harmful animal experiences such as elephant tours.

The start of its passage through parliament has been postponed, with ministers accused of “dithering”. The bill was first hoped to be published before the summer recess in July, but has since been pushed back repeatedly.

Lorraine Platt, a campaigner who runs the CAWF, told the Guardian: “We support our prime minister Boris Johnson’s commitment to advancing animal welfare and the world-leading legislation currently passing through parliament to end live animal exports and much more.

“It is paramount that this excellent programme of legislation continues its passage for the sake of millions of animals who are set to benefit from this government’s reforms. Any pause in the passage of the current animal welfare bills will be detrimental and deeply unpopular with the British public. We shall be looking to ensure that this powerful suite of legislation continues forwards.”

Spencer could not be reached for comment.

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