BORIS JOHNSON this week touted his ‘agreement in principle’ of a free trade deal between the UK and Australia as good news for UK farmers – but just about everyone involved in the agriculture and food industries disagreed.

The deal will ultimately provide Australia producers with unfettered access to UK food and drink markets, phased in over 15 years using a diminishing cap on tariff-free imports. As the first post-Brexit trade deal that isn't a simple continuation of EU terms, it is expected to set the template for how the UK will now approach trade negotiations with New Zealand, the USA, Canada and Mexico.

NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy said that 'deep concerns' remain about its impact on Scotland’s farmers, crofters and Scotland's wider food and drink sector: “The deal has not been afforded the appropriate level of scrutiny and consultation and has been agreed in advance of the promised statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission being established to scrutinise such deals," said Mr Kennedy. "Parliamentarians must be given the opportunity to examine this deal, and any future deals, with Government carrying out a detailed impact assessment on what it may mean for the agriculture and food sectors.

“An FTA with Australia, and the way it has been agreed without proper industry consultation or scrutiny, sets a dangerous precedent for other Free Trade Agreements. The cumulative impact of all such trade deals on extremely vulnerable sectors such as farming, food and drink could be hugely destructive," he warned.

ENFU president Minette Batters said: “I am concerned that this announcement appears to have made no mention of animal welfare and environmental standards. While the government has previously been keen to highlight how our Free Trade Agreements will uphold our high standards of food production, there has always been a question mark over how this can be achieved while opening up our markets to food produced to different standards. We will need to know more about any provisions on animal welfare and the environment to ensure our high standards of production are not undermined by the terms of this deal.

“Looking ahead, it is vital that the UK Government approaches its other negotiations with countries like New Zealand, USA, Canada and Mexico – all major agricultural producers and exporters – on its own terms and ensures that future deals balance access to UK agricultural markets with at least the same level of opportunities for British agri-food exports... handled badly it may become impossible for some of our farm businesses to continue to compete.”

National Sheep Association chief executive, Phil Stocker, commented: “We are on the verge of British farming and food being changed irreversibly with Cabinet making decisions without proper Parliamentary scrutiny and without promises of a new Trade and Agriculture Commission being fulfilled. There is absolutely no benefit in UK farmers being led in this direction, creating premium markets for niche products in wealthy parts of the world, while increasingly feeding our people with products that couldn’t be produced here.

"Talking about ‘equivalence’ of standards is not good enough, if practices such as long transport journeys or the transportation of animals in hot or cold temperatures are not acceptable here then why are they acceptable in Australia?" asked Mr Stocker. "Offshoring these issues is not ethical or honest. NSA has said for a long time that it fears the UK sheep sector being the sacrificial lamb for benefit of other industries and that is exactly what looks likely to happen."

Soil Association associate director Liz Bowles said: “Barely 24 hours after pledging more ambitious climate action through the G7 group, the UK has agreed a trade deal that threatens to offshore our climate impact and exacerbate the ecological emergency.

“Australian farmers are permitted to use growth hormones, prohibited pesticides, battery cages and sow stalls, and they are responsible for far more antibiotic use than producers in the UK. What happened to the Conservative manifesto pledge that there will be no compromise on our environmental, animal welfare and food standards?”

Scottish Land and Estates chairman Mark Tennant said: “This is the first post-Brexit trade deal which has been drafted from scratch and already the assurances given to UK farming and food producers by government appear to have been set aside. The successful signing of a FTA may be a breakthrough for government but it only means the removal of tariffs and quotas – it does not instantly increase the market share of UK farming.

"To take market share amongst Australian consumers we need government to work with us on a marketing drive for our products. Unlike the whisky industry, the farming industry’s marketing capacity and its cooperatives are weak, certainly when we are competing with countries which have been trading on world markets for many years."

The British Veterinary Association president James Russell stressed that removing trade barriers must go hand in hand with protecting the UK’s reputation for high animal welfare standards: “While the phasing in of tariff-free access gives British agriculture time to adjust, there appears to be no mechanism to ensure Australia must use that time to meet an appropriate level of animal welfare standards in order to secure tariff-free access to the UK market.

“With these key questions remaining, we’re calling on the Government to spell out exactly how it will safeguard animal welfare standards as the UK steps out onto the global trading stage.”

In Westminster, cross-party MPs have raised concerns that the Trade and Agriculture Commission has so far been ignored in the Government's negotiation of post-Brexit trade deals. Chair of the EFRA Committee, Neil Parish MP, said: “It seems nonsensical that the Government has jumped the gun and finalised the new UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement without first demonstrating that it has taken on board the thorough and well-researched conclusions of the Trade and Agriculture Commission's report. The Trade Secretary has stated that the TAC was established to 'advise on future strategy', yet the Government has pushed ahead with striking new trade deals that have major implications for the future of farming in this country, while the TAC’s report risks being left to gather dust."

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford MP called for a vote on the deal to be brought before Parliament, saying that in Boris Johnson's 'desperation' to get a post-Brexit trade deal with anybody, he had literally 'given the farm away': “The UK government's trade deal with Australia has been made with no consultation, no consent, and no parliamentary scrutiny.

“For all the spin, it's clear this Tory government has thrown Scottish farmers and crofters under the Brexit bus, just as they sold out our fishing communities. If the Prime Minister is really so confident about the benefits of the deal he has done, he should have the guts to put it to a vote in this House of Commons.”