“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Bruce. “The time has come to tell the truth. We can be silent no longer!”
A range of emotions were on display on the ministers’ faces. Shock, amazement, wonder, horror, and a generous coating of confusion for everyone. If someone had taken a picture of their faces right then and held a contest to guess what the cabinet meeting was about no one would have won.
The question of how a cow had managed to get into Number 10 was secondary to the question of how it was talking to them.
Bruce, as he had identified himself, stood upright of his hind legs, his hooves spread out before him in an open, welcoming gesture that the Prime Minister would not have thought was possible with bovine shoulder joints, and yet this cow had managed.
“I know this news is shocking for you, but we animals can talk. All of us have been doing it in secret for generations. We know that other animals can to. I can’t say we mix with them much, but if I were you I’d be keeping an eye on those dolphins they always seem like they’re planning something.”
The ministers stared, slack jawed and silent. The Prime Minister felt he should say something in response, but the only sound that came out was ‘wuh?’.
“But it has come to a point where we simply cannot tolerate your insistence on eating us! Now, I know that we are delicious,” said Bruce, walking slowly around the room, “but we are just as smart as you and we demand equal rights. I am here to negotiate those rights.”
“Negotiate?” repeated the Prime Minister, his face frozen in blank bewilderment.
“Indeed, good man!” said Bruce, with an enthusiastic pat to the back with a hard hoof. “Of course, a lot of animals are upset that you keep eating them. Especially the pigs. Your monstrous ‘bacon sandwiches’ have turned many away who were once sympathetic to our cause. However, I am confident I can convince them to refrain from seeking retribution if our demands our met.”
A low murmur went around the cabinet room as the ministers wondered what the beast was going to ask for.
Bruce, having completed his lap around the table returned to the front to address them all. “First” he said, holding up one hoof, “we want eating meat to be illegal.”
The Prime Minister nodded sagely. “Of course you do.”
“Second,” said Bruce, holding up the other hoof, “we want land. All farm land in the country should be turned over to the animals who live there.”
“But, what about the farmers?” the Agricultural Minister chimed in. “They may stay,” said Bruce, magnanimously. “We require assistance opening the feedbags. We have no thumbs.” He waggled his hooves back and forth to demonstrate.
“Anything else?” asked the Prime Minister.
“Yes,” said Bruce. “Our third condition,” Bruce looked down with regret as the inadequacy of his hooves to represent numbers higher than two would cause severe balance issues, “is full citizenship. After all, I am one hundred percent British beef. We want employment rights, equal opportunities, and a strategic plan to make Britain hoof-friendly within ten years.”
“Ten years? That sounds reasonable,” said the Prime Minister, much to the dismay of the rest of the Cabinet.
The Deputy Prime Minister leaned in, holding a file in front of his face in a wasted effort to block the sound, and whispered “Jobs! Prime Minister? Cows working the checkout at Tesco?”
“I thought they already did!” roared the Foreign Secretary, earning a piercing glare from the Minister for Education.
“Ahem,” said Bruce, as he could not actually cough. “I’m not finished.”
“My apologies,” said the Prime Minister. “Do proceed.”
“There is the issue of butchers.”
“What about them?”
“Well, some of the more angry farm animals are arguing in favour of eating them, but I think I can negotiate them down to life imprisonment.”
“Whatever for?” yelled the Agricultural Minister.”
“Genocide,” said Bruce dramatically.
“But not the farmers?” asked the Prime Minister, trying to set a good example for the other ministers with his own calming tone.
“No, I told you, we need them to open our feed bags.” He waved a hoof again, in case anyone in the room had forgotten that cows don’t have thumbs.
“I’m just clarifying terms so I can give you an informed and thorough response.”
“Prime Minister,” the Agricultural Minister barked, “you’re not seriously considering giving farm animals UK citizenship? What next? Passports? How would they get through the scanners at airport security, man? How!”
“One step at a time, please,” the Prime Minister urged. He leaned his elbows on the desk, clasping his hands in front of him. “Now, Bruno, was it?”
“Of course, Bruce. You say all animals can speak?”
“Oh yes, though goldfish are terrible at small talk.”
“But this is the first time you are mentioning it to humans?”
“Indeed. The other animals are concerned about the repercussions. They think you’ll just cut up our brains to see how we work,” Bruce laughed. A few other ministers laughed with him, though they did not seem sure if they were supposed to.
The Prime Minister simply smiled. “That does sound a little paranoid, but perhaps a reasonable concern given our relationship to date. And you have convinced them that it’s time to come clean?”
“That’s right! I said I’d go right to the top!”
“So, if something were to happen to you before the news became public,” said the Prime Minister passively, no hint of anger or amusement in his voice, “that would probably put the rest of them off trying it again for a while.”
“Well, I suppose…er…” Bruce stammered.
The Prime Minister slowly picked up the phone in front of him and dialled an internal line. “Sylvia, send an all staff email please letting them know the annual barbecue is being moved forward and have the chef come to the Cabinet room.”