For me, taking back control of our laws was the primary reason why I voted and campaigned for us to leave the European Union. I wanted to see a fully sovereign and independent Britain that was free to make its own laws, its own decisions and set its own future. I thought, and I still think strongly, that it is the British people who know how to best run their own country.
Without a doubt, I still think that leaving the EU was the right decision, but I want to take this opportunity to illustrate some pet-friendly policies which we can now achieve due to us leaving the EU.
In Westminster, I am a vocal advocate for animal rights. I sit on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare, and I am a passionate dog lover and owner. It must be said that Michael Gove’s leadership as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has been nothing short of remarkable for animal welfare. In this article, I will be concentrating on pet ownership; however, this Government is doing many other great things such as to tackle the scourge of plastic, deliver cleaner air and water, imposing one of the toughest ivory bans in the world, and raising animal welfare standards by introducing mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses.
As EU legislation is the basis for the UK’s pet travel rules, exiting the EU presents a crucial opportunity to review and amend legal requirements which could not previously be changed by the UK alone. Leaving the EU creates a unique opportunity to introduce effective legislation to stop the illegal importation of underage puppies in its tracks. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) will be responsible for reviewing the EU-derived law relating to pet travel, commercial pet movements and the welfare of animals in transport. I and others are now urging the Government and DEFRA to treat puppy smuggling as a priority once we leave the EU.
The EU’s Pet Travel Scheme rules are being exploited by unscrupulous dog breeders and dealers abusing the current system. Thousands of puppies are being smuggled into the UK every year by dealers and are being sold on to unsuspecting members of the public who have no idea where their puppy originated from or the often horrific conditions which they have been raised in.
Currently, dogs can travel between EU and approved non-EU countries without having a blood test but must wait 21 days after a rabies vaccination, which, to be effective, can only be given at 12 weeks or older. Whilst that means that puppies should be at least 15 weeks old before entering the country, too many underage dogs are brought in on forged paperwork and passports, without the appropriate vaccinations, at a time when they are at their smallest, cutest and most easy to sell.
The Dogs Trust reports that the majority of illegally imported puppies come from Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland. They are imported via Eurotunnel and ferry carriers often underage and with fraudulent paperwork. That needs to stop.
In 2015, 21,404 cats entered the UK under the Pet Travel Scheme. Many cats enter the UK unchecked and this presents a potential public health risk, as well as a risk to animal welfare. The charity Cats Protection have identified that tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis and tick-borne disease leishmaniasis, both of which can cause disease in humans, are no longer required for cats to be treated against before entering the UK. Brexit is an ideal time for the Government to consider enhancing border checks and review its procedures concerning pets.
A key part of this Government’s mission to build a Britain fit for the future, is by committing to leave the environment in a better state than we found it in. For me, that means using the new opportunities which we will have post-Brexit to make a real difference to improving animal welfare. If, like me, you are unhappy with pets being smuggled into the UK, then Brexit provides us with a great opportunity to make this change happen in ways we could not have before.