General election 2019: Can the UK ban live animal exports after Brexit?

Sheep being transported Image copyright Getty Images

Claim: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that under EU law “you cannot ban the shipment of live animals”.

Reality Check verdict: He is right. Under EU single market rules, no member state can ban live animal exports, although the EU does put a number of animal welfare restrictions on exporting them.

Short presentational grey line

The prime minister has made this claim repeatedly during the general election campaign and has said “the opportunity of Brexit” would allow his government to “champion animal welfare”.

The Conservative Party manifesto also says that the UK would be able to ban live shipments after Brexit, but it does not make a pledge to do so.

The party’s 2017 manifesto stated the UK could take early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter after Brexit as well. In 2018 the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said a ban was one of the options being considered.

There have been a number of campaigns in the UK against live animal exports for slaughter on welfare grounds.

Image copyright Getty Images
What does EU law say about animal exports?

Under the rules of the European Union (EU) single market, which guarantee free movement of goods, it is not possible for any member state to ban live animal exports.

This was tested in the High Court in 2014, after the deaths of 40 sheep which were being transported through the port of Ramsgate in Kent.

A temporary ban on live animal exports was imposed by Thanet District Council but was challenged in court.

It was ruled unlawful because it “breached a fundamental element of the rules governing free trade in the EU”.

The EU puts a number of restrictions on exporting live animals. These include ensuring adequate space for them, and providing food, water and rest. The rules have to be followed while the animals are transported between the member states, and also beyond the EU borders.

Under current EU law, it is an offence to transport any animal in a way likely to cause injury or undue suffering.

However, transporters of live animals have regularly been found breaking the rules. The EU recently published recommendations for improved inspections in the member states.

Under the rules of the EU single market, which guarantee free movement of goods, it is not possible for any member state to ban live animal exports altogether.

What does Mr Johnson’s EU deal say?

Under Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal, live exports of animals would continue during the transition period.

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