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

Some anti-Brexit fake news. 

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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.