"LAMB CARCASSES that we produce on the hills would be directly in the line of fire in the event of a no-deal Brexit – we must get the Prime Minister's deal over the line and end this uncertainty": that was the message delivered by the new DEFRA minister for agriculture, fisheries and food, Robert Goodwill MP, during his first official outing to Scotland.

Meeting with representatives of NFU Scotland, local Conservative politicians and the agricultural and national press, at Richard Stephen’s arable farm in north east Aberdeenshire, Mr Goodwill said that despite its imperfections, Theresa May’s deal was better than a no-deal outcome and ‘certainly better than letting down the British public who voted to leave the European Union’.

Commenting on the post-Brexit outlook, he said: “In England we are making progress with our Agri Bill, we are looking at delivering agri-environment schemes, giving public money for public goods and key to that is maintenance of the landscapes in the uplands. These areas are supported by generations of farmers who have managed those uplands, mended the walls, maintained the grass, it is vital we continue to support that,” he insisted.

“I’m disappointed that the Scottish administration has been slow off the mark in recognising the opportunities of life after Brexit where we have the flexibility to tailor our agricultural support mechanisms to the needs of our industry and the needs of our tax payers. Scotland need to get their act together and start to deliver on the kind of progress we are already making in England,” he stated.

Mr Goodwill went on to stress that in the event of a no-deal outcome, there was money in place for the sheep sector, which he claimed was top of his list of priorities: “The Treasury has got contingency plans in place but figures from NFU have quoted that £150m is needed to support the sheep market in a no-deal outcome – our estimate is slightly less. If WTO third party tariffs were brought in, we could see around 40% rates on lamb – devastating our exports.

"It’s the sort of carcasses we produce on the hills in Scotland, Wales and in my constituency in North Yorkshire – these are the carcasses which would be affected. The SNP in London along with the Labour party are playing silly games and putting people’s livelihoods at risk. My message to the SNP is if you don’t want a no-deal, vote for the Prime Minister's deal and get it over the line,” he said.

During an evidence session with the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee, Mr Goodwill declared that one of the advantages of leaving the EU would be to look at bringing in a ban on the live transportation of animals. When pushed to expand on how this would impact Scotland’s island communities, he said that this ban would only apply to travel out with the UK.

“When we leave the EU there will be increased pressure on politicians to restrict live exports, but I don’t think it will affect the way animals are transported within the UK, even if that means a sea journey, as it is important we maintain the market," said Mr Goodwill.

"If it were brought forward, to ban the export of live animals to slaughter in a different country, we would need to make sure it was watertight legislation which wouldn’t prevent the legal and welfare friendly way that animals are transported and slaughtered in this country,” he concluded.

Political affairs manager of NFUS, Clare Slipper, commented on their first meeting with the minister: “He understands that a no-deal Brexit would be an utter disaster for our industry and we made the point to him that in order to get a good Brexit deal, we need free and frictionless trade, we need labour and we need a future support policy that supports Scottish agriculture and he was very much on board with our suggestions.

“Considering his farming background and constituency, he understands the vulnerability of the sheep sector and has made it high on his list of priorities. As much as we welcome protection being in there for the sheep sector, it is important that we don’t disregard other sectors too – the cropping sector up here and horticulture is an important part of Scottish agriculture and these mustn’t be forgotten” she urged.

In response to claims that the Scottish Government has been ‘slow off the mark’ in developing agri-policy, rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said: “It is simply not true that England has made a lot more progress than Scotland on plans for post-Brexit farm support. In 2018, we consulted on clear proposals for the next five years aimed at providing farmers with financial certainty in the face of Brexit.

“We have also gathered views from our stakeholders, along with the recommendations of experts such as the Agriculture Champions and National Council of Rural Advisers, on the development of a long-term agricultural policy for Scotland,” he continued. “This is in stark contrast to the approach that the UK Government have taken. Indeed, the UK Agriculture Bill seeks to phase out direct payments over a seven-year transition period.

“There is a wealth of evidence that demonstrates that a ‘no deal’ Brexit is by far the biggest threat to farming and to our successful food and drink sector, indicating that Scotland’s farmers and food producers will be worse off under any scenario compared to retaining EU membership, free trade and freedom of movement,” he stressed.

“With almost £400 million of UK sheep meat being exported almost exclusively to the EU each year, sheep farmers are particularly at risk if tariffs applied result in this no longer being a viable market. That is why I have repeatedly called upon the UK Government to bear the costs of Brexit and not pass that on to farmers and producers,” said Mr Ewing.