Downing Street has said “negotiations are still ongoing” amid reports the Cabinet is in agreement over a planned trade deal with Australia.
The Sun reported Prime Minister Boris Johnson will offer Australia a 15-year transition to a zero-tariff, zero-quota trade pact, with the BBC reporting it was understood a Cabinet row over the matter had been resolved at Number 10.
Mr Johnson chaired the meeting of senior colleagues, with International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Environment Secretary George Eustice thought to be at odds over the proposals and the impact they might have on British farmers.
Despite reporting that Cabinet was now in agreement over the matter, a Downing Street spokesman said “negotiations are still ongoing”.
Ms Truss, who has said she wants an agreement in principle by early June, is thought to favour a zero-tariff, zero-quota approach in order to boost the flow of trade.
But such a move could leave British farmers vulnerable to competition from beef and lamb producers in Australia, and Mr Eustice has suggested that quotas could be used to protect them.
Mr Johnson “wants to maximise the massive opportunities presented by post-Brexit trade deals”, the spokesman said.
Downing Street insisted farmers would be protected in any deal with Australia.
“Any agreement would include protections for our agriculture industry and won’t undercut UK farmers,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
“We want a deal that is good for the British public and any agreement would have protection for the agriculture industry.”
However the SNP Westminster leader, Ian Blackford MP said the move showed “Scotland’s interests have been thrown under the Brexit bus” in a move that threatened the viability of many Scottish farms and crofts.
He said: “Boris Johnson has utterly betrayed Scottish farmers and crofters with a post-Brexit trade deal that threatens the viability of Scottish lamb and beef farming, and could wreck a way of life that has existed across Scotland for generations.
“Brexit has already cost Scotland billions of pounds, and this Tory deal would be a disaster for our agricultural sector. There is a very real danger that many farmers will lose their livelihoods, rural businesses will collapse, and families will be driven off the land.”