UK Parliamentary Debate on Faroe Islands Trade Agreement

Monday, 25 Jul, 2022

On July 11th, the UK Parliament debated whether to suspend the UK's Free Trade Agreement with the Faroe Islands until they ended the slaughter of whales and dolphins in the 'grindadrap' drive hunts, also known as the 'grind'. The debate was scheduled after a formal petition -- registered by Dominic Dyer and promoted by the Stop the Grind coaltion -- received over 100,000 signatures of UK residents and British citizens. 

In addition to the 104,000 signatures on the UK parliamentary petition, a survey comissioned by Stop the Grind and Sea Shepherd revealed that more than 75% of the UK population supports economic sanctions on countries that practice dolphin and whale hunting, and nearly 70% would consider joining a general boycott of products and services from these nations. 

The debate; which was attended by the new Minister for Trade, Andrew Griffiths, as well as a number of MPs representing constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales, similarily highlighted the unanimous position of MPs against the slaughter of cetaceans – in any number.

Minister John Nicholson passionately led the discussion laying out the numerous economic, social and political arguments in favour of suspending the free trade agreement. He highlighted the inequitable trade balance between the Faroe Islands and the UK – which has resulted in a 157% increase in Faroe Islands’ exports to the UK since the free trade agreement was signed – stating “we have the power to make the Faroe Islands focus and resist.” Ben Lake MP argued that the last assessment on pilot whale populations was conducted in 1997 and therefore that any suggestion that a quota of this number is sustainable is utterly indefensible.

Kerry McCarthy MP also spoke ardently about the need for the UK government to “[use] trade negotiations to set a very clear marker as to what our standards are and what standards we are willing to accept from other nations.” She highlighted the fact that the renewal of the Faroe Islands trade agreement in 2019 would have presented a relevant opportunity to introduce animal welfare standards into trade policy and questioned Minister of Trade, Andrew Griffiths, as to why this had not taken place. Minister Griffith responded that “we all aim to achieve the same end – which is the end of this barbaric practice” and that the UK would use its diplomatic relationship with the Faroe Islands to continue to condemn the Grindadrap and advocate for policy change.

"The British Government cannot turn a blind eye to the brutal slaughter of whales and dolphins on the Faroe Islands when it enriches this small Island nation of less than 50,000 people at an unprecedented rate as a result of this unbalanced and unethical Free Trade Agreement. No whales or dolphins should be brutally slaughtered in the Faroe Islands to put cod and farmed salmon on our supermarket shelves. If the UK is to remain a world leader in the protection of marine mammals, the Government must be willing to use trade sanctions to end this barbarism for good."

Dominic Dyer, policy advisor at the Born Free Foundation and initiator of the UK Parliamentary petition.
Members from Stop the Grind, Sea Shepherd and the Born Free Foundation attended the debate as observers.

MPs also shared Stop the Grind’s concern with the recent announcement of a proposed quota by the Faroe Islands arguing that “even one dolphin is too much for this government”. The quota – released the day before the debate in an apparent attempt to placate policymakers – is above the current average annual catch of dolphins and does not apply to pilot whales (which are killed in far greater numbers). 

“It appears that international and domestic opposition to the barbaric grindadrap hunts have been rejected in favour of killing of even dolphins by setting not a restrictive quota, but what some Faroese dolphin hunters will see as a de facto target to be reached. Sea Shepherd will continue our campaign together with the Stop The Grind coalition and our crew and friends across Scandinavia and in the Faroe Islands until we together bring about an end to these cruel grindadrap hunts of dolphins and pilot whales.” - Robert Read, CEO of Sea Shepherd UK

Although disappointed that the debate did not result in the suspension of the Free Trade Agreement, Stop the Grind was strongly encouraged by the large turnout of MPs for this discussion and compelling arguments made by government ministers and MPs from all sides. After years of intensive campaigning, the Stop the Grind coalition considers it a huge win for this issue to be discussed with such rigor at the highest political level in the UK. 

The Stop the Grind campaign will now turn its focus on the upcoming discussions taking place at the International Whaling Commission meeting in Slovenia in October 2022. This meeting represents another important opportunity to demonstrate the extent of international opposition to the Grindadrap and to apply scrutiny to the arbitrary quota that has been put forward by the Faroese government.

In addition, Sea Shepherd will continue its multi-decade campaign to document the hunts through its substantial team of photographers, videographers and media experts currently on the island for the summer of 2022. "We are pleased with the recent developments in our campaign which demonstrate the power of the public to affect change and will continue to use every avenue available to us to assert pressure on the Faroe Islands government until the Grind comes to an end," concludes Robert Read.

Learn more about the Stop the Grind Coalition

* Learn more about Sea Shepherd's 2022 Bloody Fjords Campaign

* Watch the full recording of the debate below:

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