St Albans MP Anne Main faces backlash over animal sentience vote

Anne Main.

Anne Main. - Credit: Archant

St Albans MP Anne Main faced a backlash after voting against transferring animal sentience from EU to UK law during the Brexit process.

She has previously backed animal welfare issues, including improving regulation on British horse exports, but was one of 313 MPs who rejected carrying over the idea that animals can think and feel emotions in the same way as humans.

The EU protocol was originally conceived by the UK government when it had the EU presidency 20 years ago.

Co-leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, bought the clause to Parliament believing it would be uncontroversial: “In other words, it was a recognition that, like us, animals are aware of their surroundings; that they have the capacity to feel pain, hunger, heat and cold; and that they are aware of what is happening to them and of their interaction with other animals, including humans.”

She said the resulting 1999 protocol informed more than 20 EU laws, including those on battery cages, cosmetics testing, and seal-skin imports.

St Albans dog walker Verity Lewis, 41, said she was worried Mrs Main’s vote was a backwards step: “It is still disappointing that an MP representing a rural area like St Albans should take this view.”

She added: “It’s long been established that animals are able to feel emotions. We have a responsibility for our domestic and commercial animals, so need to recognise that they are capable of feeling fear, distress, discomfort, hunger, thirst, and an urge to display their natural behaviours. If sentience is excluded from future legislation, we may find that while minimal standards are met, for example not inflicting pain on animals, these other requirements are not met.”

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Lib Dem St Albans Parliamentary candidate Daisy Cooper said it was a double standard: “Anne Main sided with her out-of-touch Government to vote ‘that animals cannot feel pain or emotions’ into the Brexit bill, despite claiming in the recent General Election that she wanted the UK to strengthen its animal welfare law post-Brexit.”

She added: “The RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming have condemned the move. The Government’s claim that this clause is covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is, they say, simply not true: the act does not include the term and only applies to domestic animals anyway.”

Since the no-vote and damaging social-media outrage, politician Michael Gove insisted his Goverment would formally recognise animal sentience in UK law. Anne Main responded to the criticism by stressing she knows animals are sentient: “I myself have introduced a bill into Parliament that sought to enhance animal welfare, which was scuppered because it clashed with existing EU law.

“One of the reasons I feel so strongly about issues such as the live transportation of animals, and have supported the ban, is precisely because of the emotional distress of animals being crammed onto trucks and carried over the continent.

“Currently, because of EU rules we cannot ban this cruel practice.”

She said Britain is a leading authority on animal welfare law, pointing out that bull fighting, sow stalls, and foie gras are permitted by the EU.

“MPs absolutely did not vote in the way they did because the wanted to weaken our high animal welfare standards, contrary to some misleading headlines in the national press.

“As I have said many times now: leaving the EU finally gives the opportunity to ban these cruel practises which we currently have to put up with.”

To sign the petition against repealing this clause, visit