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Tory MPs are very, very keen to tell you that they know animals feel pain

Some anti-Brexit fake news. 

The MPs who voted against an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill by Green MP Caroline Lucas were not prepared for what happened next. The motion was about the precise wording of an EU treaty which explicitly describes animals as “sentient beings”. But the Independent reported the story as “The Tories have voted that animals can't feel pain”. Cue internet outrage.

Rachel Maclean, MP for Redditch County, denounced it as “fake news”.

Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow, responded to “many of my constituents” with an open letter declaring the accusation was “outrageous” and added, just for clarification, “I do believe animals are sentient beings.” He said his vote against the amendment was only in order to “push forward Brexit”.

Heidi Allen, the MP for South Cambridgeshire, reminded constituents that “there are few things that upset me more than needless cruelty to animals”.

David Cameron's successor as MP for Witney, Robert Courts, quoted Hansard:

The Rural Conservative Movement indulged in some whataboutery:

Meanwhile, Tory backroom staff have produced a helpful fact-checking video for beleaguered MPs to share.

The Tories are right – in the fact that they were voting primarily against the amendment because it is an obstacle to Brexit, and there is existing UK legislation that recognises the principle of animal sentience. Of course, it may not turn out that all EU laws have such handy replacements in UK law. 

Still, even if this was less a vote about animals and more about Brexit, the idea that Tory MPs don't have animal pain at the top of the agenda might seem obvious, given the enthusiasm within the party at large for, as Stephen Bush put it, the right to “don a silly outfit and chase a fox through the countryside and get your dogs to rip it apart while it’s still alive”.

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

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Commons Confidential: Tories turn on “Lord Snooty”

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

With the Good Friday Agreement’s 20th anniversary rapidly approaching, Jeremy Corbyn’s office is scrambling to devise a celebration that doesn’t include Tony Blair. Peace in Northern Ireland is a sparkling jewel in the former prime minister’s crown, perhaps the most precious legacy of the Blair era. But peace in Labour is more elusive. Comrade Corbyn’s plot to airbrush the previous party leader out of the picture is personal. Refusing to share a Brexit referendum platform with Blair and wishing to put him in the dock over Iraq were political. Northern Ireland is more intimate: Corbyn was pilloried for IRA talks and Blair threatened to withdraw the whip after the Islington North MP met Gerry Adams before the 1997 election. The Labour plan, by the way, is to keep the celebrations real – focusing on humble folk, not grandees such as Blair.

Beleaguered Tory Europeans call Brextremist backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg – the hard-line European Research Group’s even harder line no-dealer – “Lord Snooty” behind his back. The Edwardian poshie, who orchestrates Theresa May’s taxpayer-funded Militant Tendency (members of the Brexit party within a party are able to claim “research” fees on expenses), is beginning to grate. My irritated snout moaned that the Beano was more fun and twice as informative as the Tories’ own Lord Snooty.

Labour’s Brexit fissures are getting bigger but Remainers are also far from united. I’m told that Andy Slaughter MP is yet to forgive Chuka Umunna for an “ill-timed” pro-EU amendment to last June’s Queen’s Speech, which led to Slaughter’s sacking from the front bench for voting to stay in the single market. The word is that a looming customs union showdown could trigger more Labexits unless Jezza embraces tariff-free trade.

Cold war warriors encouraging a dodgy Czech spy to smear Comrade Corbyn couldn’t be further from the truth about his foreign adventures. In Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, Corbyn recalled spending a night in Burundi pumping up footballs. The club offered to donate shirts for an aid trip but he asked for the balls to be shared by entire African villages. He was War on Want, not Kim Philby.

Screaming patriot Andrew Rosindell, the chairman of an obscure flags and heraldry committee, is to host a lecture in parliament on the Union Jack. I once witnessed the Romford Tory MP dress Buster, his bull terrier, in a flag waistcoat to greet Maggie Thatcher. She walked past without noticing.

A Tory MP mused that Iain Duncan Smith was nearly nicknamed “Smithy”, not “IDS”, for his 2001 leadership campaign. Smithy would still have proved a lousy commander.

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia