Michael Gove has denied that MPs voted against the notion that animals are sentient following a backlash from campaigners this week.
The environment secretary also took aim at the way the argument has been portrayed on social media, saying the facts had been distorted.
Many mocked the Brexiteer’s attack on inaccurate reporting, pointing to the Leave campaign bus, which, prior to the June 2016 referendum, incorrectly boasted that departing the EU would give the UK £350 million a week.
A row erupted in the wake of last week’s vote, which saw the government reject an amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill which would have transferred part of the Lisbon Treaty into UK law.
Article 13 from the Lisbon Treaty recognises that animals are sentient and puts the onus on the state to take into account animal welfare when formulating and implementing policies in areas such as agriculture, fisheries and transport.
Gove has said that “no one in the House of Commons disagrees” that animals are sentient, but added that it would have created “legal uncertainty” if MPs had included the protocol in the withdrawal bill.
“On social media there was a suggestion that MPs had somehow voted against the notion that animals are sentient beings. That did not happen. That was absolutely wrong,” the Tory minister told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Friday.
When queried why Parliament didn’t bring across the protocol and then add to it later, Gove said: “It’s better to have an absolutely well designed piece of UK legislation rather than a poorly designed piece of EU legislation.”
Gove pointed to the ways in which the government has already strengthened animal welfare, such as moving to install CCTV in slaughterhouses, increasing sentences for animal cruelty and banning sales of ivory.
The Brexit campaigner said that the UK’s departure from the EU could lead to stronger animal welfare measures in areas such as live exports and puppy farming.
Gove said that he expects there will be additional safeguards for animals written into the Animal Welfare Act 2006 before the UK leaves the EU.
“What we’re going to do is to ensure that we have stronger protection written into law in order to ensure that there is no gap.
“We will ensure that there is no gap in the operation of the law, and there is no way in which animal protection can be diminished in any way, in any shape, or in any form,” Gove added.
The senior Tory MP also criticised the way the debate had been portrayed on social media, claiming the vote had been “unfairly represented”.
“There’s an unhappy tendency now for people to believe that the raw and authentic voice that’s shared on social media is more reliable than what is said on Hansard or on the BBC,” he said.
“We have got to stand up against the way in which social media corrupts and distorts both reporting and decision making.”
Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas tabled the amendment, raising concerns that the current regulations risked dropping out of UK law by accident once Britain leaves the EU.
Many experts and animal welfare campaigners have spoken out on last week’s vote, often being highly critical of the government’s stance.
Gudrun Ravetz, senior vice president at the British Veterinary Association, detailed the different protections for animals in Article 13 of the Lisbon treaty compared to the UK’s Animal Welfare Act 2006.
She told Today: “Article 13 puts a duty on the state to pay full regard to animal welfare for a specific set of policies and explicitly states that animals are sentient.
“Now the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which is UK law, puts the duty for the animal welfare on the owner or the keeper.
“And, although it implicitly states animals are sentient in the explanatory notes, that is only for vertebrates.”
She called the differences between the two “significant”, adding that if the principle of Article 13 is not brought into UK law then there would not be a duty on the state to pay full regard to animal welfare.