SCOTTISH FARMERS and crofters will be put out of business if an Australian Free Trade agreement, with no tariffs or quotas on 'sensitive' products - particularly beef and lamb - is agreed by the UK government.

As concern escalates over Boris Johnson's apparently headlong rush to strike post-Brexit trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, farmers leaders have warned that, however it is dressed up, fully opening the UK market to the agricultural powerhouses of the Antipodes will doom farm businesses closer to home – and set an awful precedent for future trade deals with North and South America.

National Farmers Union Scotland chief executive Scott Walker said: “We are reaching out to our political contacts to ascertain the credibility around speculation that what the UK Government has put on the table for Australia is a 15-year transition to quota free and tariff free trade with the UK.

“No consultation has been had with NFU Scotland on such a proposal and any such transition would be wholly unacceptable to Scottish farmers and crofters," stressed Mr Walker. "Regardless of whether unfettered access on sensitive products like beef or lamb is offered now or in 15 years’ time, the impact on family farms would be devastating. With different production systems in Scotland compared to Australia, our high standards will be undermined.

“We cannot see how such a deal would be in line with the Government’s own policy of protecting our standards of production and we continue to raise our deep concerns that the UK Government is clearly continuing to pursue an Australian deal without fulfilling its commitment to have a statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission in place to properly scrutinise any future trade deals," he said.

“With the UK Government’s own scoping assessment concluding that a UK-Australia FTA would benefit UK GDP by a mere 0.02%, this strikes us as being all about an ideology rather than what is in the best interest of Scottish farmers and crofters."

The English NFU demanded to know why the new statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission – which the Conservative Government promised would scrutinise trade deals before they are signed – had not yet been set up, when the very thing it had been promised to oversee was being propelled forward at such breakneck pace.

ENFU president Minette Batters said: “It is incredibly disappointing to hear news of the government’s trade strategy from sources other than the government themselves, especially when its reported plans will have such a massive impact on British farming.

“There remains a huge amount of unanswered questions about exactly how decisions regarding trade policy have been made, on what basis and how it will operate in the future. It is also incredibly concerning that the government is in a ‘sprint’ to sign up to a trade deal with Australia that would have serious implications for British farming and would seemingly offer incredibly little benefit to the economy," said Ms Batters.

“We continue to maintain that a tariff-free trade deal with Australia will jeopardise our own farming industry and could cause the demise of many, many beef and sheep farms throughout the UK. This is true whether tariffs are dropped immediately or in 15 years’ time," she stressed.

“The Prime Minister and his government have pledged to level up the country. Agreeing to a tariff-free trade deal with a major agricultural exporter, with no safeguards or review mechanisms, would do exactly the opposite of that commitment and set swathes of rural Britain backwards."

The SNP's Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said that Prime Minister Johnson had thrown Scottish interests 'under the Brexit bus' – and told the Scottish Secretary of State Alister Jack that he should be making it a resignation matter.

"Boris Johnson has utterly betrayed Scottish farmers and crofters with a post-Brexit trade deal that threatens the viability of Scottish lamb and beef farming, and could wreck a way of life that has existed across Scotland for generations," he said.

"It is completely unacceptable that the Tory government is threatening to impose a deal that would undercut the price and standards of Scottish beef and lamb – putting Scottish farmers out of business. Yet again, Scotland's interests have been 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.

"There is a very real danger that many farmers will lose their livelihoods, rural businesses will collapse, and families will be driven off the land."

Mr Blackford has written to Mr Jack, reminding him of his past promises to act for the benefit of Scottish farmers, and suggesting that his only 'credible option' was to threaten to resign if the administration he represented refused to reconsider its negotiating position with Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Blackford wrote: "In February of this year, you told the AGM of the National Farmers Union of Scotland that: '… I can assure you that your voice is heard at the very highest levels of the United Kingdom Government. This helps to make sure that UK Government policy in agriculture continues to benefit Scotland'.

"If this statement is to have any effect, relevance or truth, then it now falls on you to stand by Scotland’s farmers and crofters and robustly oppose a deal that threatens to put them out of business," said Mr Blackford. "I urge you to break your deafening silence on this crucial issue and fight back against this damaging deal. That means opposing any trade deal that will, at any future point, grant tariff-free, zero quota access to Australian lamb and beef.

"Given the seriousness and scale of this issue for Scotland’s farmers and crofters, it is also clear that your only credible option is to make clear that this is a resigning matter should your views be ignored in Cabinet."

Less dramatically, UK vets reminded the government that animal welfare standards must not be compromised in pursuit of trade agreements down under or indeed anywhere else.

The British Veterinary Association said that any free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand must include 'an ambitious and comprehensive' animal welfare chapter, including detailed provisions on animal welfare cooperation.

BVA noted that animal welfare standards currently diverge significantly between the UK and Australia – the Animal Protection Index gives the UK a B grade in overall animal welfare, whereas Australia holds a D grade.

However the UK and New Zealand are largely aligned in many aspects of animal health and welfare policy. NZ farm animals are protected under its 2006 Animal Welfare Act, and the principle of animal sentience has been recognised in law there since 2015.

BVA president James Russell said: “We recognise the importance of securing a firm footing for the UK on the global trading stage now that we have left the EU, but removing barriers needs to go hand in hand with protecting the UK’s hard-won reputation for high welfare standards and preserving the livelihoods of our farming communities.

“Opening the floodgates to cheaper imports in the interests of sealing a deal would spell bad news for animal welfare and undercut our producers, who pride themselves on high standards and offering UK customers the quality that they both deserve and expect."