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Livestock export ban to become law amid claims Northern Ireland being ‘sold out’

15 May 2024 5 minute read
Image: Compassion in World Farming

A long-awaited livestock export ban is set to become law, amid unhappiness it does not extend to Northern Ireland with claims the region had been “sold out”.

The Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill aims to prevent cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses being sent to the continent for fattening and slaughter from Great Britain.

But it will not extend and apply to Northern Ireland, with the UK Government saying this is to ensure the region’s farmers have unfettered access to the British and Republic of Ireland markets.

Critics view it as further evidence of Northern Ireland still having to follow EU rules post-Brexit and being treated differently to the rest of the UK – a major source of contention to the unionist community despite the resumption of powersharing at Stormont.


It comes as controversy flared after a Belfast High Court ruled that Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda deportation plan should not apply in Northern Ireland as it undermined human rights protections guaranteed in the region under post-Brexit arrangements and breached the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Prime Minister has vowed to appeal and insisted the court judgment will not derail the scheme, designed to tackle small boat crossings.

Speaking at third reading of the animal welfare legislation, former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey said: “We have not only a trade border up the Irish Sea but an immigration border and now an animal export border. Is it not time that people were told the truth, instead of being misled?”

Baroness Hoey, a Northern Irish Brexit supporter and former Labour MP, said: “I am very much in favour of the Bill. But it is very important that members understand that, while we may be patting our backs and saying that it is wonderful that we have gone ahead with banning the live export of animals for slaughter, this is not a United Kingdom Bill – it is a Great Britain Bill.

Image: Compassion in World Farming

“Once again, Northern Ireland has been left out. It has been left out, of course, because Northern Ireland has been left in the European Union single market.”

The non-affiliated peer added: “I just hope members realise that this is one of many provisions that now cannot be applied to Northern Ireland, because this Government have basically sold out Northern Ireland and left it under the European Union for so many regulations.

“Unless we wake up and start to realise that, this will be the very beginning of the end of the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”


Responding, environment minister Lord Douglas-Miller paid tribute to those who had long campaigned for the livestock export ban.

He added: “I am also acutely aware that there are some challenges in certain places where I have been unable to satisfy Lady Hoey and Lord Empey, on the specific details.

“However, I think that they are acutely aware that it is probably beyond my remit to address those issues.

“I have tried extremely hard through both individual engagement and the debates that we have had up to this stage to put the Bill in the position that I think we all want it to conclude on, which is one where it will pass.

“Therefore, I feel sad that I cannot satisfy everybody in this space, but I genuinely believe that we can collectively be proud of this Bill, and it does exactly the right thing at this moment in time.”


Philip Lymbery, Global CEO of Compassion in World Farming added jubilantly: “This is a huge day to celebrate and one that has been long-awaited. For decades, farmed animals have endured these senseless and arduous exports to the continent – but no longer! I am phenomenally proud of our supporters whose dedication and persistence have helped secure this hard-fought victory.

“It has been a very difficult journey to get this policy over the line with many stumbling blocks along the way. It’s a relief to see this horrific practice now end once and for all and we congratulate the Prime Minister and his Government for making it happen.”

Yvonne Birchall, from Kent Action Against Live Exports (KAALE), said: “For 29 years, KAALE and their supporters have demonstrated outside UK ports as live export shipments have been loaded on vessels bound for Europe. It has been truly heartbreaking to witness these animals crammed into trucks.”

“Whatever the weather, whatever the time of day, KAALE have attended these sailings, and our members are the last friendly faces millions of animals will have seen before being exported. We are delighted that the law will finally ban this cruel trade and the people of Kent will no longer need to stand up in opposition to it.”

Having all its parliamentary stages, the Bill now goes for royal assent.

This new legislation will add to the growing momentum around the world to address the welfare of live animals subjected to long and unnecessary journeys.

Australia has recently committed to end the export of sheep by 1 May 2028 and, last year, a Brazilian court banned the export of live cattle from the country’s ports.

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