British Prime Minister Theresa May is to abandon an election pledge to reverse a nationwide ban on foxhunting, one of the most popular activities of rural England, the Sunday Times reported Sunday.
The announcement will come as a bombshell to the 250,000 people aiming to gather at countryside locations on Dec. 26 when the traditional Boxing Day meets take place across the country.
Although the hunts continue to meet and race across the fields and pastures of England, the huntsmen and huntswomen and their packs of dogs are no longer allowed by law to pursue foxes.
Most supporters of the sport had expected to see a ban, introduced by the Labour government in 2004, to be reversed. But according to the Sunday Times, May wants to rebrand her Conservative Party as a “caring” party.
Her move is certain to infuriate many of the party’s rural supporters, and split its MPs, when May announces plans to drop the commitment permanently early in 2018, said the newspaper.
The report added that May’s move follows a fierce backlash, especially among young people, against her pro-hunting policy in this year’s snap general election in June.
A poll found that 67 percent of voters believed foxhunting should remain illegal, with half of voters saying they would be less likely to vote for a parliamentary candidate who supported a restoration of foxhunting.
Under the 2004 act of parliament, hunts must follow artificial trails, but animal rights groups claim that many animals are still killed.
The policy reversal will affect about 170 packs of registered foxhounds, plus more than 80 packs of harriers, beagles and basset hounds that were historically used to hunt hares. The hunts and their 40,000 members have kept going since the 2004 ban, hoping it would be reversed.
For the Conservative Party, where hunting is a totemic issue, dropping the pledge to reverse the ban could be divisive, the newspaper says. The Conservative Party membership is predominantly based in rural and market towns and tends to support traditional country sports.