BREXIT: What Does it Mean for Animal Welfare?

On the 18th December, 2018 the government announced that the £2 billion no deal Brexit contingency fund would now be released and that 3,500 troops will be made available in preparation for UK’s departure from the EU in March 2019 (BBC News, 2018).

I’ll be honest, I feel way out of my depth with Brexit. I resent ever being given the option to vote in the Brexit referendum because I‘m woefully ill-informed to do so. I’m not an economist, I’m not a legal expert in international trade and I’m not an historian. Most importantly, I’m not a politician and I’m not being paid shedloads of taxpayers cash to do their job and run the bloody country!

However, I’ve just read a really interesting analysis of Brexit and its implications for animal welfare (McCulloch, 2018) and I believe it is so important I’ve written about it here. I do hope this blog compels you to go and read this for yourself.

1. Brexit in a nutshell

On the 23rd June 2016, the British electorate voted in favour of the leaving the European Union with a majority of 51.9% = LEAVE to 48.1% = REMAIN. The overall turnout was 72.21%. To put this into perspective, the turnout for this referendum was higher than it is has been for any general election in the last 20 years, for example 2001 = 59.4%; 2005 = 61.4%; 2010 = 65.1%; 2015 = 66.1%; 2017= 68.7% (UK Parliament. 2016).

“Brexit means Brexit” – what exactly does this mean? And what is the difference between a hard Brexit, a soft Brexit and a no deal Brexit? Well, there is no strict definition for either ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ because they mean different things to different people depending on what particular model is being considered as a framework for UK’s exit from the EU. However, in general, the terms ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ relate to the closeness of the relationship between them.

Currently, the UK belongs to the Single Market alongside the other 27 member countries that make up the European Union. This means that money, goods, services and people can move freely across borders.

In addition, all members of the EU are part of the Customs Union which means that all goods made within the EU can move around the EU without tariffs and few border customs checks. In addition, every country applies the same tariff on goods they import from countries outside of the EU.

SOFT Brexit: implies that the UK stays a member of the Single Market, or the Customs Union, or in fact both – depending on how soft ‘soft’ means to the person using the term. It also means that UK will have to continue to pay piles of cash into the EU, continue to abide by some of its rules (European Court of Justice) and continue to allow people from other EU countries to settle in the UK if they wish, and vice versa. In effect, a soft Brexit maintains the UK’s close ties with the EU and is the favoured choice for those that voted to remain in the referendum. Problem is this isn’t what those wanting to leave the EU voted for.

HARD Brexit: implies that the UK opts out of both the single Market and the Customs Union which scraps nearly all the existing ties the UK has with the EU, along with their advantages and disadvantages to the UK. For example, it ends the UK’s commitment to pay piles of cash into the EU every year, ends the free movement of EU citizens into the UK to live and work and scraps the authority of the European Court of Justice allowing the UK to make its own rules. The EU, and therefore the UK, already has 4 agreements in place to trade with specific countries outside of the EU, namely – the Norway model, the Swiss model, the Turkey model and the Canada model. A hard Brexit will have to adopt one these models as its foundation and customise it to suite the UK. Crucially, the other 27 countries of the EU will have to agree with and support whatever model and customisations the UK chooses. Therefore, how hard ‘hard’ is will be determined by which model is chosen and then how it can be customised to suite both the UK and the EU, so there will inevitably be advantages and disadvantages to the UK.

NO DEAL Brexit: implies that no hard Brexit deal is agreed between the UK and the EU. In this case, the UK would be on its own and will have to use the default model of the World Trade Organisation which governs international trade. The UK would be free to then strike up its own deals with whoever it wanted anywhere in the world. This is the favoured choice for those that voted to leave in the referendum. However, there is a huge downside because with no deal in place, the UK could be effectively shut down. There could be chaos and delays at the boarders forcing up the cost of imported goods, including food, drugs etc., chaos for air travellers and questions over the rights for UK citizens living in other EU countries and vice-versa. So, it is uncharted waters. While the leave politicians assure us it’s a wonderful opportunity for the UK, the remain politicians warn us it’ll be an unmitigated disaster.

2. Brexit from the animal’s point of view

Brexit’s main focus is on trade and economics so let’s start with some figures. The UK’s total value of exports is worth £616 billion per annum and about 44% of this trade (£274 billion) is with member countries of the EU (Full Fact, 2018). Only about £4.7 billion of this £274 billion is in livestock products including meat. Going the other way, the UK imports about £10 billion of livestock products from the EU.

Remember, these numbers tell us about trade. They have nothing to do with welfare. However, welfare is of utmost importance to the animals involved, so let’s start by looking at the numbers shown in the table below (McCulloch, 2018, Table 1).

Estimated animal populations in the 28 European Union countries, including the UK (EU28), United Kingdom alone (UK) and the United States of America (USA) (from McCulloch, 2018, Table 1). * Poultry and predominantly chickens are the largest species group in agricultural species.

Poor welfare means cheaper production costs and therefore cheaper and more competitive consumer prices on the supermarket shelves. One of the ways the EU currently supports better animal welfare standards is by imposing huge tariffs on imported meat products from countries where welfare standards are poor. A good example here are the tariffs imposed on mass-produced chicken from the USA – these are the ‘chlorinated chickens’ you will have heard about. Chlorine is used to make the meat safer to eat after slaughter and before it’s exported because mass production = poor welfare = greater contamination risks by pathogens such as Salmonella. Not nice!

Now, as I mentioned above, a hard Brexit will be based on 1 of 4 existing trade models, namely the Norway model, the Swiss model, the Turkey model or the Canada model. A no deal Brexit will default to the World Trade Organisation model. Of course, there is another deal on the table and that’s for the UK to scrap Brexit altogether and simply stay in the EU.

As if by magic, the Brexit and Animals, Opportunities and threats consortium (2018) have analysed all 6 trade models and extracted the relevant animal welfare-related content. Here’s a brief synopsis of the winners and losers for each model. The table below tests each of the 6 models against 11 representative opportunities the UK could use to leverage improved animal welfare standards across the globe.


  • EU: CURRENT 28 European Union countries, including the UK.
  • ND: No deal Brexit. Defaults to World Trade Organisation model.
  • NM: Norway Model.
  • SM: Swiss Model.
  • TM: Customs Union.
  • CM: Canada Model.


  1. Ability to ban live imports and exports of farm animals for fattening and slaughter.
  2. Ability to introduce method of production labelling.
  3. Ability to reintroduce new farm support system to encourage high level of animal welfare.
  4. Participate in the Pets Travel Scheme PETS. Outside the scheme dogs coming into the UK have to go into 6 months quarantine. This is how vanloads of puppies come into the UK from Eastern Europe.
  5. Ability to reintroduce extra veterinary requirements for dogs and cats moved via non-commercial means into UK.
  6. Ability to maintain ban on testing of cosmetics products and ingredients on animals and marketing ban on animal-tested cosmetics from outside UK and EU.
  7. Collaboration with key EU regulatory agencies/enforcement bodies.
  8. Full access to TRACES (tracking of shipment and use within the territory)
  9. Tariff-free access for agricultural goods.
  10. Tariff-free access to veterinary medicines.
  11. Unimpeded movement of animals between the EU and the UK, this is how vanloads of puppies come into the UK from Eastern Europe.
Different models of trade with the EU 27 (from Brexit & Animals Taskforce, Page 10, 2018, after McCulloch, 2018, Table 2). The question marks indicate that the availability of these opportunities depends on the customisation of the particular model chosen.

First, look at the top row of the table coloured yellow. This is where the UK sits as a member of the EU. The first thing you’ll notice is that animal welfare is already a loser on 4 welfare issues and 3 of these are really important for the animals concerned. The UK can’t ban live exports for fattening and slaughter, can’t introduce labelling to show consumers the methods of production used in the country of origin and can’t lobby to reintroduce new farm support system to encourage high levels of animal welfare across the EU. Not good.

Now look at the second row of the table coloured black, this is the no deal Brexit option. As you can see animal welfare is a winner on all 4 of the welfare issues failed by the UK as a member of the EU. This is one of the arguments put forward in support of a no deal Brexit by the leave campaign. Looks great on paper, but in reality it’s bad. Here’s why.

As mentioned above, the UK currently imports about £10 billion of livestock products from the EU every year. Under WTO rules this trade will disappear because of high tariff prices leaving the UK to scrabble around trying to find cheaper deals. As the Brexit and Animals, Opportunities and threats consortium (2018) puts it – “it risks a race to the bottom as most other countries do not have the same high animal welfare standards as the UK”. This is why Donald Trump loves the prospect of a no deal Brexit, he’s got piles of chlorinated chicken he really wants to sell to us!

Please do take the time to read both the Opportunities and Threats Consortium report and McCulloch’s excellent analysis to get an idea of the full and complicated situation that is Brexit.

© copyright Robert Falconer-Taylor, 2018

This article is an original work and is subject to copyright. You may create a link to this article on another website or in a document back to this web page. You may not copy this article in whole or in part onto another web page or document without permission of the author. Email enquiries to


BBC News. 2018. No deal Brexit: Gavin Williamson says 3,500 troops ‘at readiness’. (Accessed 18th December, 2018).

Brexit and Animals, Opportunities and threats: UK animal welfare under different models of relations with the European Union (EU). 2018. Brexit & Animals Taskforce. (Accessed 16th December, 2018).

Full Fact. 2018. Everything you might want to know about the UK’s trade with the EU. (Accessed 18th December, 2018).

McCulloch, S., 2018. Brexit and Animal Protection: Legal and Political Context and a Framework to Assess Impacts on Animal Welfare. Animals, 8(11), p.213.

UK Parliament. 2016. General election turnout. Living Heritage, Elections and Voting, Charitists. (Accessed 16th December, 2018).