British farmers have been left "sickened" after remarkable details emerged about how Boris Johnson finalised the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with Australia.
An extraordinary report in Politico has set out how Australia gained the upper hand over the UK during final negotiations over a dinner in Downing Street in June 2021, when Johnson was prime minister.
Those negotiations revolved around beef markets. Johnson's unexpected verbal concession - effectively allowing thousands more tonnes of Australian beef to enter UK markets - was acted upon by quick-thinking Australian officials who, according to Politico, had the pledge printed out before persuading him to formally sign the agreement that same evening.
This aspect of the deal meant British farmers' produce is now in competition with much more Australian beef than Downing Street had originally envisaged. The overall trade deal came into force on Wednesday.
Liz Webster, chair of the Save British Food campaign group, told Yahoo News UK: "To hear we were served up in a silver salver is sickening.
"Yesterday I mourned for British farming [upon reading the report]. I mourned for the British countryside. I did cry.
"Today I am f***ing furious.
"The deceit, the arguments that have raged over Brexit for seven years... we have been called Project Fear, scaremongers… and we were right. This proves it. He [Johnson] should never be forgiven.
"It just shows the Australians saw him coming. They got him to make a huge concession and couldn’t believe their luck. It was the moment Britain was completely and utterly sold out. He sold Britain."
Webster has previously campaigned against Brexit. In 2018, she brought a crowdfunded challenge to the legality of Brexit to the High Court, which was dismissed.
Johnson, for his part, has rejected the Politico account of the negotiations. His spokesman told the website it was "rubbish".
But the report, which cited five sources, claimed the agreement over beef was sorted in the time it took to visit the toilet.
After Johnson unexpectedly gave in to Australia's demands about the amount of beef that could enter UK markets, George Brandis, one of Australia’s negotiators, reportedly wrote down the verbal pledge on a piece of paper and handed it to an aide as he went to the toilet.
The pledge was then scanned over to Australian officials, who put it in a formal trade document which was then printed out in Downing Street itself, according to the report. As he returned from the toilet, Brandis was handed the document which he and then-Australia PM Scott Morrison asked Johnson to sign.
“Of course,” was the reply said to have come from Johnson.
“Your boss has already conceded the whole kingdom,” one Australian official later told an unsuspecting international trade secretary Liz Truss as the deal was about to be announced.
The overall trade deal - which has been widely criticised by British farmers - came into force this week having been ratified in December 2021.
Watch: UK’s first post-Brexit trade deals with Australia and New Zealand now in place
Nick von Westenholz, director of trade and business strategy at the National Farmers’ Union, had previously said the deal was "highly likely to favour Australia over the UK."
Writing on the organisation’s website, von Westenhol said: "Specifically, lower production costs and weaker standards will see the introduction of more competitive Australian imports that will become completely tariff-free after 15 years.
"Asking UK farmers to go toe-to-toe whilst maintaining their sustainability, environmental and animal welfare commitments significantly risks the longevity of the UK agricultural sector in the future.”
Webster, meanwhile, told this website there are food security issues to consider: "It’s bad for us farmers but it’s bad for everybody. This is your food, your food security.
"While we can eat Australian meat, if, say, there’s a war in Taiwan and there are interruptions to food supplies, we are all at risk because of that - with there now being barriers between us and Europe - and those imports are going to decrease even more.
"We’re leaving ourselves open to repeat the history of World Wars One and Two where food may not get into the country. Anyone with half an ounce of common sense surely must realise that tantamount to national security is food. You don’t need to bomb a country, you can starve it.
"Rather than it being a cultural war [over Brexit], this is about making sure we look after our food security."
Another extraordinary detail in the Politico report was how Johnson apparently felt compelled to "make up for" the UK joining the EU in the 1970s, a move which he felt had "let them [Australia] down."
As well as farmers, the report has left anti-Brexit MPs enraged.
The SNP’s Dierdre Brock said it was a "truly jaw-dropping account of British trade negotiations in a post-Brexit world - the Aussies saw them coming a mile off."
Alan Smyth, also of the SNP, said: "This is enraging. Brexit, even if you were in favour of it, surely wasn’t about selling out our farmers. I hope all the Tories who have defended and approved these shabby deals will pay for it at the next election."