The British people voted to leave the European Union (EU) in a 2016 referendum. The United Kingdom (UK) has been a member of the EU since the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1993 and before that a member of the European Communities (EC) since 1973. EU animal health and welfare regulations and directives have had a major impact on UK animal protection policy. Similarly, the UK has had a substantial impact on EU animal protection. Brexit represents a substantial political upheaval for animal protection policy, with the potential to impact animal welfare in the UK, EU and internationally. Brexit’s impact on farmed animals will determine the overall impact of Brexit on animals. A major threat to animal welfare is from importing lower welfare products. A major opportunity is reform of UK agricultural policy to reward high welfare outside the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). A soft Brexit, in which the UK remains in the single market and/or customs union, mitigates the threat of importing lower welfare products. A harder Brexit means threats to animal welfare are more likely to materialise. Whether threats and opportunities do materialise will depend on political considerations including decisions of key political actors. The Conservative Government delivering Brexit has a problematic relationship with animal protection. Furthermore, Brexit represents a shift to the political right, which is not associated with progressive animal protection. There is significant political support in the Conservative Party for a hard Brexit. Further research is required to investigate whether the various threats and opportunities are likely to materialise.
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