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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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era