Tory leadership hopeful Boris Johnson has suggested he will ban the live export of animals if he becomes prime minister.
Asked about the practice at a leadership hustings in Kent, the former foreign secretary dubbed it “a really terrible business” for animals.
“One of the reasons I resigned from the Cabinet is because when you look at the detail of what is implied by the current Withdrawal Agreement, it would make it impossible for us to vary our laws on the live transport of animals,” he told Tory members on Thursday night.
After Brexit, the UK will be able to tell exporters it is “no longer possible to take live animals in great distress and confusion very very long distances,” Johnson said.
“Some of them, by the way, go more or less from Scotland to Spain to Africa,” he added. “I mean this is a really terrible business for these animals.”
Under EU laws, exporters are currently able to transport live animals from the UK to Europe for breeding, fattening and slaughter.
A number of animal welfare groups have called for an end to the practice, with the RSPCA estimating that “millions of farm animals” transported around Europe are suffering from stress, exhaustion, thirst and rough handling.
Labour has also called for a ban on live exports for slaughter or fattening, with an exemption for livestock transported across the Northern Ireland border.
But Johnson was less explicit when asked whether he would allow a free vote on lifting the fox hunting ban in England and Wales.
However, he suggested a vote was not at the top of his to-do pile, citing Brexit, his aim to defeat Jeremy Corbyn and “a need to unite our country” as more pressing issues.
“I do not think this is the one at the top of our standard as we go into battle,” he said.
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt – who is also in the running to replace Theresa May in Number 10 – has previously said he would allow a free vote on fox hunting, calling it “part of the countryside” and “part of our heritage”.
However, he said he expected the law would not change.