International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has said British farmers “will not be undercut” by any future trade deal with Australia amid fears over imports of lamb and beef.
It was reported that a rift had opened in Cabinet over a deal being negotiated by Ms Truss with Australia, over concerns that farmers would be granted tariff-free access to UK markets.
Environment Secretary George Eustice and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove were understood to be against allowing tariff-free access, while Ms Truss and Brexit minister Lord Frost were pushing for it.
But agricultural groups had warned this would undercut British farmers and that they would struggle to compete if zero-tariff trade on lamb and beef went ahead.
Speaking to MPs on the Commons International Trade Committee, Ms Truss said: “I have had discussions with the National Farmers’ Union, I’ve been very clear with them that of course, I’m always looking to make sure – as I have committed to – that British farmers will not be undercut by unfair practices from elsewhere.
“And we will make sure in all the deals we do that British farming thrives and I’m absolutely confident that will be achieved through the Australia deal.”
She said negotiators were “currently in a sprint with a view to getting to agreement in principle by early June” on a trade deal with Australia which she said would have “benefits for all nations and regions of the United Kingdom, and all industries, including the agriculture industry”.
But speaking earlier, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford told Boris Johnson he was throwing farmers “under the Brexit bus”.
He said: “This deal would be the final nail in the coffin for many Scottish crofters and farmers, it will end a way of life that has endured for generations, Prime Minister.
“I know that many of the Prime Minister’s Tory colleagues privately agree with me and want him to pull back from this deal.
“So will the Prime Minister finally listen, think again and ditch a deal that will send our farmers down under?”
Mr Johnson said: “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.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the UK was seeking deals around the world which would be “tailored so that they can best meet the needs of the British people”.
“Negotiations are ongoing on a trade deal with Australia, so I’m not going to pre-empt the outcome of those talks,” the spokesman added.
“We want to secure an ambitious deal that benefits businesses and consumers across the UK, and of course any agreement will include protection for the agriculture industry.”