An attempt in the House of Lords to ban live exports as part of the Agriculture Bill has been stymied by complications over Northern Ireland.
Baroness Fookes tabled an amendment to the legislation, supported by Conservative peers Baroness Hodgson and Lord Randall, which would have outlawed the practice everywhere in the UK except Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland had to be excluded because under the terms of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, it must continue to apply EU rules which prevent a ban.
Setting out the Government’s objection to the amendment during a debate on the Bill, Defra Minister Lord Gardiner said: “The amendment… would regrettably create a loophole which would be detrimental to animal welfare.
“Animals could be transported from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, rested for a short time in accordance with EU law, and then transported on to a third country.
“There is also a risk that, to ensure enforcement was possible, we would need to introduce greater restrictions on animal movements from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.”
Lord Gardiner went on to say the Government was ‘actively considering’ how it would take forward its manifesto pledge to control live exports, but acknowledged the plan could run into difficulty at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which prevents countries from imposing bans on imports or exports.
If the UK banned live exports from England to the continent, but allowed them from Northern Ireland, it would break a separate WTO rule which stops members from treating countries differently.
National Sheep Association (NSA) policy officer Ellie Phipps told Farmers Guardian she was ‘not disappointed’ to see the Government having a hard time banning live exports.
“We have always been clear it makes far greater sense to ensure animals are transported safely than to ban the practice,” she said.
“In many cases, a journey abroad will be quicker than a domestic journey, which makes far more sense for the animal as well as the farmer, and research shows sheep do not find transport overly stressful.
“NSA strongly recommends the Government changes its strategy to ensure the regulation is strong.”