Australia to be offered zero-tariff, zero quota trade deal despite farmers’ fears of ruin

Boris Johnson understood to have given go-ahead for the offer to be made, over-ruling concerned Cabinet ministers

Boris Johnson tells farmers not to be ‘frightened’ of free trade with Australia

Australia will be offered a zero-tariff, zero quota trade deal despite farmers’ fears of ruin from cheaper and lower-quality meat imports, it is understood.

Boris Johnson is believed to have given the go-ahead for the offer to be made, settling a major Cabinet row and over-ruling the concerns of his environment secretary, George Eustice

The full removal of tariffs and quotas is only like to happen after up to 15 years – in an attempt to calm the protests of worried farming groups.

Michael Gove is also believed to be concerned that the controversy will boost support for Scottish independence, because farmers north of the border could be hardest hit.

But the prime minister has sided with ministers who say tariffs are protectionist and that scrapping them will cut prices in the shops, delivering a tangible benefit from Brexit.

Mr Johnson hopes that a deal in principle will be ready to trumpet at the G7 summit in Cornwall next month – despite warnings that appearing “desperate” is handing Australia the advantage.

Liz Truss, the trade secretary pushing hardest for the deal to be offered, is expected to speak with her to speak to her Australian counterpart, Dan Tehan, as early as Friday.

The prime minister signalled his backing for Ms Truss in the Commons on Wednesday, when he brushed aside concerns and told farmers not to be “frightened of free trade”.

The government has promised “protections” for UK farmers, but has not said what they will be, if tariffs and quotas are to be scrapped.

Farming groups fear it would set a dangerous precedent for future agreements – particularly with the US – which would leave British farmers struggling to compete with cheap imports.

A further controversy surrounds the effect on the climate emergency of encouraging greater meat-eating, when government advisers say the public needs to eat less.

This week, both the SNP and Plaid Cymru protested that the planned deal would ruin Scottish and Welsh farmers.

“Farmers will lose their livelihoods, rural businesses will collapse and families will be driven off the land,” Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, alleged.

Warning many Tory MPs “privately agree” he urged Mr Johnson to “ditch a deal that would send our farmers down under”.

But the prime minister accused the SNP “grossly underestimate their ability to do great things with our free trade deals” to export their own products

“This is a country that grew successful and prosperous on free trade around the world,” Mr Johnson told MPs.

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