Ukip wants to ban non-stun slaughter. Photo: Getty
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Ukip's position on halal and kosher meat is about stoking division, not animal welfare

Judging by Ukip's poor show on wildlife issues in the European Parliament, its latest proposal is more about exploiting xenophobia than protecting animals.

Another week, another controversial Ukip policy. This time, Ukip has rocked the boat by announcing that it would outlaw religious slaughter for halal and kosher meat that requires animals to be killed without being stunned. Conveniently, and perhaps not coincidentally, the policy announcement came on the same day as shocking footage emerged of sheep being horrifically mistreated at an abattoir in Yorkshire, in complete contravention of animal welfare standards and Islamic practice.

Ukip justifies its proposed ban in terms of animal welfare, referring to the need to put the "ethical treatment of animals" above the beliefs of religious groups. This is all well and good, and as it happens it is something I agree with. Yet Ukip deliberately uses divisive language that sets the "silent majority" against minority Jewish and Muslim communities.

It is worth remembering that as well as revealing shocking mistreatment of animals at a Halal abattoir, Animal Aid also uncovered appalling abuse in a number of other abattoirs that did use stunning, including footage of animals being punched in the head, burnt with cigarettes and given electric shocks.

Moreover, when Ukip talks about upholding the "UK's compassionate traditions of animal welfare", I assume it isn't referring to its desire to reintroduce fox-hunting, which, let's remember, involves a pack of dogs tearing a frightened animal to pieces. One cannot help but suspect that the party's proposed ban on religious slaughter is more about courting anti-Islamic sentiment and the far right vote than standing up for the ethical and humane treatment of animals.

Ukip's sudden concern for animal welfare rings particularly false when you consider its dreadful record on animal welfare issues in the European Parliament. Just take the fight against wildlife crime and illegal poaching. Last January, Ukip MEPs voted against measures to protect elephants and crack down on the illegal ivory trade. And when a few months ago I invited MEPs to co-sign my letter to the European Commission demanding an EU action plan against wildlife crime, I received 82 signatures from across the political spectrum yet not a single one of Ukip's 23 MEPs voiced their support.

Ukip has also voted against an EU ban on importing seal fur, with Ukip MEP Roger Helmer claiming that dumb seal cubs deserve to be killed and that, "it's mawkish, sentimental and unhelpful to adopt a Bambi attitude to animals".

So I would argue that Ukip's latest proposal has more to do with the politics of division and fear than animal welfare. Like most people, I was sickened by the footage of animals being routinely abused in slaughterhouses. I want to see a lot more being done to clamp down on this cruel treatment. That is why I'm calling for stricter enforcement of EU animal welfare laws that specify animals slaughtered without pre-stunning should be spared any avoidable suffering.

Improving the treatment of animals can be done without stirring up tensions or singling out particular communities. This is a problem for all of us, and the best way to address it is by working together, across Britain and across the EU.

Catherine Bearder is the Liberal Democrat MEP for the South East. She tweets at @catherinemep

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The 11 things we know after the Brexit plan debate

Labour may just have fallen into a trap. 

On Wednesday, both Labour and Tory MPs filed out of the Commons together to back a motion calling on the Prime Minister to commit to publish the government’s Brexit plan before Article 50 is triggered in March 2017. 

The motion was proposed by Labour, but the government agreed to back it after inserting its own amendment calling on MPs to “respect the wishes of the United Kingdom” and adhere to the original timetable. 

With questions on everything from the customs union to the Northern Irish border, it is clear that the Brexit minister David Davis will have a busy Christmas. Meanwhile, his declared intention to stay schtum about the meat of Brexit negotiations for now means the nation has been hanging off every titbit of news, including a snapped memo reading “have cake and eat it”. 

So, with confusion abounding, here is what we know from the Brexit plan debate: 

1. The government will set out a Brexit plan before triggering Article 50

The Brexit minister David Davis said that Parliament will get to hear the government’s “strategic plans” ahead of triggering Article 50, but that this will not include anything that will “jeopardise our negotiating position”. 

While this is something of a victory for the Remain MPs and the Opposition, the devil is in the detail. For example, this could still mean anything from a white paper to a brief description released days before the March deadline.

2. Parliament will get a say on converting EU law into UK law

Davis repeated that the Great Repeal Bill, which scraps the European Communities Act 1972, will be presented to the Commons during the two-year period following Article 50.

He said: “After that there will be a series of consequential legislative measures, some primary, some secondary, and on every measure the House will have a vote and say.”

In other words, MPs will get to debate how existing EU law is converted to UK law. But, crucially, that isn’t the same as getting to debate the trade negotiations. And the crucial trade-off between access to the single market versus freedom of movement is likely to be decided there. 

3. Parliament is almost sure to get a final vote on the Brexit deal

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the final Brexit deal, which means the government accepts it also needs parliamentary approval. Davis said: “It is inconceivable to me that if the European Parliament has a vote, this House does not.”

Davis also pledged to keep MPs as well-informed as MEPs will be.

However, as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer pointed out to The New Statesman, this could still leave MPs facing the choice of passing a Brexit deal they disagree with or plunging into a post-EU abyss. 

4. The government still plans to trigger Article 50 in March

With German and French elections planned for 2017, Labour MP Geraint Davies asked if there was any point triggering Article 50 before the autumn. 

But Davis said there were 15 elections scheduled during the negotiation process, so such kind of delay was “simply not possible”. 

5. Themed debates are a clue to Brexit priorities

One way to get a measure of the government’s priorities is the themed debates it is holding on various areas covered by EU law, including two already held on workers’ rights and transport.  

Davis mentioned themed debates as a key way his department would be held to account. 

It's not exactly disclosure, but it is one step better than relying on a camera man papping advisers as they walk into No.10 with their notes on show. 

6. The immigration policy is likely to focus on unskilled migrants

At the Tory party conference, Theresa May hinted at a draconian immigration policy that had little time for “citizens of the world”, while Davis said the “clear message” from the Brexit vote was “control immigration”.

He struck a softer tone in the debate, saying: “Free movement of people cannot continue as it is now, but this will not mean pulling up the drawbridge.”

The government would try to win “the global battle for talent”, he added. If the government intends to stick to its migration target and, as this suggests, will keep the criteria for skilled immigrants flexible, the main target for a clampdown is clearly unskilled labour.  

7. The government is still trying to stay in the customs union

Pressed about the customs union by Anna Soubry, the outspoken Tory backbencher, Davis said the government is looking at “several options”. This includes Norway, which is in the single market but not the customs union, and Switzerland, which is in neither but has a customs agreement. 

(For what it's worth, the EU describes this as "a series of bilateral agreements where Switzerland has agreed to take on certain aspects of EU legislation in exchange for accessing the EU's single market". It also notes that Swiss exports to the EU are focused on a few sectors, like chemicals, machinery and, yes, watches.)

8. The government wants the status quo on security

Davis said that on security and law enforcement “our aim is to preserve the current relationship as best we can”. 

He said there is a “clear mutual interest in continued co-operation” and signalled a willingness for the UK to pitch in to ensure Europe is secure across borders. 

One of the big tests for this commitment will be if the government opts into Europol legislation which comes into force next year.

9. The Chancellor is wooing industries

Robin Walker, the under-secretary for Brexit, said Philip Hammond and Brexit ministers were meeting organisations in the City, and had also met representatives from the aerospace, energy, farming, chemicals, car manufacturing and tourism industries. 

However, Labour has already attacked the government for playing favourites with its secretive Nissan deal. Brexit ministers have a fine line to walk between diplomacy and what looks like a bribe. 

10. Devolved administrations are causing trouble

A meeting with leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ended badly, with the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon publicly declaring it “deeply frustrating”. The Scottish government has since ramped up its attempts to block Brexit in the courts. 

Walker took a more conciliatory tone, saying that the PM was “committed to full engagement with the devolved administrations” and said he undertook the task of “listening to the concerns” of their representatives. 

11. Remain MPs may have just voted for a trap

Those MPs backing Remain were divided on whether to back the debate with the government’s amendment, with the Green co-leader Caroline Lucas calling it “the Tories’ trap”.

She argued that it meant signing up to invoking Article 50 by March, and imposing a “tight timetable” and “arbitrary deadline”, all for a vaguely-worded Brexit plan. In the end, Lucas was one of the Remainers who voted against the motion, along with the SNP. 

George agrees – you can read his analysis of the Brexit trap here

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.