Boris Johnson has dismissed farming industry fears that a post-Brexit trade deal with Australia and New Zealand could knock many out of business.
Scottish farmers are concerned that a free-trade deal with our Commonwealth cousins could result in small family farms being unable to compete with a flood of cheap food imports.
National Farmers Union Scotland President Martin Kennedy said this morning that any deal which gave unfettered access to the British market would be viewed as a “betrayal” of the industry.
“We’re seriously worried about any sort of fool liberalisation or unfettered access from a country like Australia because that threatens not only the prices but the way we farm here”, he said.
'Farmers are deeply concerned about the implications of a free trade deal.'
— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) May 19, 2021
Despite the remarks, Mr Johnson told MPs his plans would give a “massive opportunity” for farmers to export.
UK government ministers are under pressure to sign a Brexit trade deal with Australia before the G7 summit in Cornwall next month, to which Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been invited.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, speaking in the Common, urged the prime minister to abandon the plan.
He said: “As a member of Scotland’s crofter community I understand just how disastrous the Brexit trade deal with Australia as proposed by this Tory Government would be for Scotland’s farming and crofting sectors.
“If reports of this Tory deal are true, farmers will lose their livelihoods, rural businesses will collapse and ultimately families will be driven off the land and let’s be very clear if that happens this UK Tory Government will be solely responsible.
“Can the Prime Minister categorically rule out that his Government is prepared to sign up to a trade deal that will at any future point guarantee tariff-free access to Australian lamb and beef, yes or no?”
Mr Johnson drew laugher from the Tory benches with his response, saying: “I’m delighted to see the shots of his croft by the way, a humble representative of the crofting community.”
He added: “I don’t think that he does justice to crofters, to farmers across the country and in Scotland as well because I think he grossly underestimates their ability to do great things with our free trade deals, to export Scottish beef around the world. Why doesn’t he believe in what the people of Scotland can do?
“Why is he so frightened of free trade? I think there’s a massive opportunity for Scotland and for the whole of the UK and he should seize it and be proud of it.”
Mr Blackford responded: “The fact that the prime minister couldn’t give a straight answer will send the real chill across Scotland’s farming communities.
“The UK Government led the betrayal of Scottish fishing and now the Tories are planning to throw our farmers and crofters under the Brexit bus.”
Ditch the deal
The SNP boss ended by asking the prime minister to “ditch a deal that would send our farmers down under”.
Mr Johnson again accused the SNP of “grossly underestimating” the farming industry.
The row comes amid reports of a Cabinet split on the issue, with Environment Secretary George Eustice and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove at loggerheads with Trade Secretary Liz Truss and former Brexit negotiator David Frost over the government’s policy.
Ms Truss and Mr Frost are pushing for Mr Johnson to green-light tariff-free access, while Mr Eustice and Mr Gove are concerned that doing so would undercut British farmers.