EXCLUSIVE: Ministers still committed to ending export of live animals and banning whale meat shipments

The farming minister and former Vote Leave backer George Eustice has challenged suggestions that the Government is preparing to water down animal welfare standards post-Brexit after reaffirming his campaign pledge to end live animal exports.

Farming minister George Eustice

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post as part of a series of exclusive weekend politics interviews, the Defra minister also restated his commitment to banning whale meat traders from British ports.

His comments were made ahead of this week’s publication of a House of Lords Committee report which warned welfare standards could be undermined after Brexit as UK farmers struggle to compete with cheap imported foods.

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They also came amid reports of a split in the Cabinet over the future of food standards once Britain leaves the EU, brought to light by claims that the UK would have accept chlorinated chicken imports as part of a new trade deal with the US.

Mr Eustice, who played an active role in last year’s Leave campaign, has frequently defended the UK’s record on animal welfare while pointing to the EU as a barrier to improving legislation.

Ahead of the referendum, he blamed European rules for preventing the UK Government from banning several controversial practices, including the export of live animals for slaughter and the use of British ports to transport whale meat.

Now that the UK is in the process of leaving the EU, he has confirmed that bringing an end to both of these trades remains his ambition.

“On live animal exports, we actually included a commitment on that in our manifesto. It says we will explore ways of restricting that trade further [and] we are looking at that issue,” he told this paper.

“On the shipment of whale meat... I think there is a consistency point here. The UK has taken a consistently strong stance on the conservation of whales and we have regularly challenged the whale hunting that takes place.

“If you’re going to take that stance as a country, I think you have got to back that up with actions and if that means stopping the transshipment of whale meat through ports like Southampton then we should be wiling to do that.

“We cant do it while we’re in the EU, but outside the EU its possible for us to look at these things.”

During last year's campaign, the Leave camp claimed 49,712 live lambs and sheep were exported across the English Channel in 2012, many of which were destined for slaughterhouses in France.

Mr Eustice, who is the MP for Camborne and Redruth, argued at the time that the UK Government "wants all animals slaughtered as close as possible to where they are reared" but were prevented from changing regulations "because it would break EU rules on free movement".

He also revealed that the port in Southampton had been used to tranship minke whale meat caught in Iceland across to Japan. But again he said freedom of movement rules thwarted his attempts to change the law to ban the process.

Mr Eustice said the transhipment of whale meat via British ports has stopped over the last two years because the Japanese have not been buying Icelandic produce.

But he stated that if the trade were to restart "we would be justified as a country in saying we are not going to allow it".