Sunday, 27 September 2015

Live Exports & The Green Party.

For almost 5 years I’ve  been campaigning to stop the barbaric export of live farm animals from the Port of Ramsgate. In that time hundreds of thousands of sheep have arrived at Ramsgate after long journeys from as far away as  Scotland and  Wales, to be  loaded onto a ramshackle  ex-Red Army tank transporter, the Joline,  for a 4 to 6 hour crossing of the English Channel to Calais. From Calais the animals face further long journeys across France and into Holland, Italy or Spain and sometimes into countries outside of the EU. During these long journeys the animals are forced to endure horribly cramped conditions, temperature extremes,  and limited access to food and water. They spend most of the journey standing in urine and excrement and at the end of it, a grisly ritual slaughter awaits most of them. Whatever way you look at it, the live export of farm animals from Ramsgate is medievally cruel and barbaric. In our so called modern world industrial scale cruelty on a scale such as this should not be allowed.

But allowed it is! Section 33 of the 168 year old Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 requires that every “harbour, dock, and pier shall be open to all persons for the shipping and unshipping of goods”. Similarly, the treaties governing  the operation of the European Union prohibit the imposition of any “restrictions on the import and export of goods” between member states. Despite living in modern times,  animals are still regarded as “goods” which means, according to UK and EU laws, that its permissible for their owners to transport theses poor souls thousands of miles  across the UK and EU in appalling conditions in pursuance of free trade. And massive amounts of taxpayers money and unimaginably huge resources have been ploughed, by the British State, into ensuring that Ramsgate Port, the only port in the UK where live exports for slaughter take place, remains open for  animal abusers to ply their filthy, but lawful, trade.

It must have cost the Kent Constabulary at least £2million to
police the  94 live animal export shipments which have passed through Ramsgate Port since 2011. Dover Harbour Board Police are likely to have spent close to a million pounds managing the 40 or so shipments which have passed through their jurisdiction since 2011. This doesn't include the costs associated with planning police operations, or of the logistics, transport and intelligence gathering carried out by police.  Next we have legal costs. I reckon a further £2 million has been spent on preparing the ever growing number of court cases involving campaigners, exporters and Thanet Council. Then there’s the cost to the port owners for additional security when shipments take place and the cost to the Government’s Animal and Plant Agency who supervise and check every shipment of live farm animals at the point of loading the transporters and embarkation onto the ferry  at Ramsgate or Dover.

But it doesn’t end there. Just a few weeks ago I successfully forced Thanet Council to reveal that it had paid the live animal exporters a staggering £2.3million in compensation for suspending their cruel trade following the death of 47 sheep at Ramsgate in 2012. The decision to suspend the exports was, in my opinion, courageous and morally justified. And in a court case at Dover Magistrates in February 2014, Thomas Lomas and his company, Channel Exports Ltd, were  fined £5,000, ordered to pay £14,000 costs for committing animal welfare offences which led to the destruction of the sheep at Ramsgate in 2012. Lomas was also handed down a 6 month suspended gaol sentence for animal welfare offences. However, the High Court saw things differently.

Despite clear evidence of animal welfare abuse leading up to the death of the 47 sheep, Mr Justice Birrs declared at a damages hearing brought by the exporters in December 2012,  that Thanet Council’s suspension of live exports “was an unjustifiable breach of Article  35 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union” which requires that “Quantitative restrictions on exports, and all measures having equivalent effect, shall be prohibited”. So we have the bizarre situation whereby the exporters are  found guilty of breaching  animal welfare rules,  yet at the same time being compensated to the tune of the £2.3million for being prevented from carrying out their cruel trade!. But setting aside this perverse legal illogicality, the important point is that that at least £7million of UK taxpayers money and huge state resources, have been poured into actively supporting a group of a dozen or so men, some of whom are convicted animal welfare criminals, from plying a horrendously abusive and cruel from the port of Ramsgate. This can’t be right or fair.

Thankfully over the past  5 years there has been great support for the campaign to stop live animal exports from Ramsgate. We have received the backing of the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming who have helped to publicise the issue. Thousands of people from Thanet and across the country have become involved with our campaign. They have joined marches, attended rallies and public meetings, signed petitions and took part in peaceful direct actions against the cruel trade. Some of the campaigners, including myself, have been taken court for standing up against the barbarity. Some of the campaigners, including myself, have been subject to years of police surveillance and have been added to the so-called domestic extremism database. But despite the incredible efforts and the determination of campaigners, the evil trade continues and animals are still suffering. So I think it’s time to look at changing tactics  and developing a more successful, hard hitting campaign which will attract more support for  our cause.

Instead of the set piece confrontations with the police and exporters every time there is a shipment we need to look at new more imaginative actions which are not  linked to shipments but which attract regional and national headlines and win more public support. That doesn’t mean we stop protesting whenever there is a shipment. On the contrary we need many more people at port  gate demos. But we also need be taking other actions away from the port and not linked to the shipment timetable to  raise our issues, to win over  more support and have a greater  influence. This could include taking imaginative well-thought out actions across the UK . It may mean  gate-crashing high profile farming and meat/ sheep related events and causing an upset. It could also include taking actions in the  EU  as well! After all its EU rules which cause this cruelty.  Either way the time has come to broaden out our campaign and turn it to a force to be reckoned with just as the anti-fracking movement has done with its campaign of peaceful direct action.

Also we need to be using the political system a lot more. The laws we are fighting are made by politicians. We need to put pressure on politicians to force them to review and change these laws  so that the cruel and barbaric exports of live farm animals for slaughter can be stopped. One of the reasons why I joined the Green Party a couple of years ago was precisely because they oppose animal cruelty and I’m pleased to say that the Party has supported our campaign. Green MEP Keith Taylor has visited Ramsgate and  spoke at public meetings alongside the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming. Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett  joined our march and spoke at our rally in November 2014. During the General election the Green Party published its Animal Manifesto which committed the party to ending live animal exports.  But I think we as campaigners can be doing much, much more on the political front to pressure our MPs and MEPs to make live animal exports a much  higher priority and to begin the process of legislative change.

I have already made contact with the 3 UK Green MEPs, Keith Taylor, Jean Lambert and Molly Scott Cato and am hoping to be able to  persuade them to set up and lead a campaign in the European Parliament to amend the EU treaties and regulations so as to allow opt outs from free trade arrangements on the grounds of animal welfare. They already have, through the Animal Manifesto, a commitment to ending live exports. But I would like to see Keith, Jean and Molly doing a lot more to end this  brutal trade  and what better way than being the leaders of a long overdue  EU Parliamentary revolt on animal welfare.

I'm sure that there are  many  Green MEPs from other EU member states and many  non-Green MEPs in the EU parliament who will work Keith, Molly and Jean,  to build a force for animal welfare  change within the EU. In fact there is a powerful EU Parliamentary Inter-Group on Animal Welfare, of which Green MEP Keith Taylor is a member. This group has recently discussed the export of live farm animals  to countries outside of the EU. I have already suggest to Keith that it might be a good idea for him to suggest that the group should have a special meeting on live exports between EU member  states, especially the UK where a sea crossing is involved. Campaigners from Ramsgate, the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming should be invited to present evidence at such a meeting.  I will also be contacting Caroline Lucas MP  to discuss the possibility of amending the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 and developing support for an end to this cruel trade within the UK  Parliament. I am sure that Caroline should have no problem convincing  Jeremy Corbyn and the newly progressive forces of the  Labour Party to work with the Greens in a joint campaign to end live exports. I will also be trying  to secure a meeting with the Leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett to discuss how the Party can raise the profile of the campaign against live exports  from Ramsgate amongst its 65,000 members.

I recognise that politicians and political parties have many conflicting priorities  such as campaigning against austerity, campaigning to protect our environment, defending  human rights and supporting  asylum seekers etc. But the welfare of animals, with whom we share our planet, should not be continually pushed to one side, or seen as less important.
I sincerely hope that by discussing and reviewing our campaigning tactics and making greater use of political processes we can end once and for all a cruel and barbaric trade which has blighted Ramsgate and the UK for too long. Ban live exports.



  1. Very well written Ian. This article has made me bounce back from the depression I was in regarding live animal exports, as it really gives hope and enthusiasm. I look forward to our progress on these matters xx

  2. Protests outside tdc and ramsgate police station would help. Where are the rspca?

  3. Justice Birrs seems an idiot. Lots of things are banned from export. And animal welfare takes priority for meat exports. What sort of judges are we hiring?