UK ministers are determined to “shut out” the Scottish Government over a new trade deal with Australia, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
A proposed deal with Canberra will offer tariff and quota-free trade between the two countries, UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has said, but opponents have claimed this could have a detrimental effect on British farming.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon said the deal represents a “betrayal” of Scottish farmers.
She said her ministers have expressed their concerns to their UK counterparts about the “devastating impact the UK Government-proposed deal could have on our farming communities”.
In response a question from new SNP MSP Jim Fairlie, Ms Sturgeon added: “That followed an earlier letter from the Rural Affairs Secretary to the UK Trade Secretary on May 19, but the UK Government seems determined to shut the Scottish Government out of this decision-making process, just as it has ignored our interests throughout the Brexit process.
“We are extremely concerned that yet again a crucial decision affecting Scotland’s future is being taken by this Tory Government – not just against the wishes of people who live here, but fundamentally against the interests of people who live here.”
The First Minister claimed the UK Government has already “betrayed” the fishing industry in Scotland through Brexit and is about to do the same on farming.
Food imports, she said, must meet the same standards as Scottish produce and be controlled by tariff rate quotas.
“Anything short of that, short of what the Tories promised, will be a betrayal of our farmers and will be deeply damaging to the Scottish economy,” she said.
“We hear a lot of rhetoric from the Conservatives about standing up for Scottish business – we’ve heard it again today – perhaps it’s about time they actually stood up for our farming community and told their bosses in the UK Government that what is proposed is simply not acceptable.”
Speaking on LBC this week, Ms Truss said trade without tariffs and quotas is the same agreement the UK had with the EU before Brexit, saying: “What we are talking about is, in the long-term – so this is not going to happen quickly, there will be a very long transition period – allowing Australia the same kind of access the EU already has.”
But farmers, backed by UK Environment Secretary George Eustice, fear they could be wiped out if there is a complete liberalisation of trade.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is also said to oppose the deal, amid concern it will increase support for Scottish and Welsh independence – but the Prime Minister backed the proposal in a meeting with ministers last week.