How can a Scottish crofter with 60 sheep, or a Scottish farmer with 600 sheep, compete with an Australian farmer with 60,000?
This is a question Boris Johnson has failed to answer, despite pleas from Scotland’s crofting and farming communities, as he signs off on a UK-Australia Brexit trade deal.
The trade deal is reportedly set to give tariff and quota-free access to Australian beef and lamb and it’s a move that would threaten the viability of many Scottish farms and crofts by undercutting the price and standards of Scottish produce.
Australia’s biggest beef exporter has predicted a tenfold increase in UK sales as a result of this Tory deal and while Australian farmers are set to profit, we could see Scottish farmers lose their livelihoods, rural businesses collapse, and ultimately, families driven off their land.
As a crofter myself I understand the challenges faced by the community and the anger at the UK government’s disregard for our own agricultural sector.
As the president of NFU Scotland has made clear, farmers will feel “seriously betrayed” by these proposals, and there are real concerns the UK Government’s actions are based on ideological reasons, rather than what is in the best interests of Scottish farmers and crofters.
And as Downing Street refuses to rule out hormone beef, chlorine chicken and ractopamine pork in this post-Brexit trade deal and any others that will follow, this deal should also be of concern to all consumers across the country.
At Prime Minister’s Questions this week I asked Boris Johnson to categorically rule out plans to sign up to such a trade deal but he failed to do so.
In fact, the Prime Minister couldn’t give a straight answer, and his remarks lacked any understanding or compassion for the farming industry, which is astonishing when the agri-food sector is now the UK’s largest manufacturing sector and the third largest employer in rural Scotland.
I know that many of the Prime Minister’s own Tory colleagues privately agree with me that this UK-Australia trade deal spells disaster for our farmers.
‘Tories must stand up for Scottish farmers’
The Scottish Tories must do the right thing and stand up for our farming communities, and the Prime Minister must finally listen, not only to these colleagues and opposition politicians, but to the many in the farming industry calling on him to think again and ditch a deal that will send our famers down under.
Brexit has already cost Scotland billions of pounds and we are seeing yet again Scotland’s interests being thrown under the Brexit bus – just as they were when the Tories sold out our fishing communities, and dragged Scotland out of the EU against our will.
The SNP will continue to stand up for Scotland’s agricultural sector but it is clearer than ever that the only way to properly protect our farming industry is for Scotland to become an independent country with the full powers to defend and promote Scotland’s interests.
In the mean time, we are facing a Brexit deal that would be the final nail in the coffin for many Scottish farmers and crofters and it could end a way of life that has endured for generations.
- Ian Blackford MP is SNP leader in Westminster.