It has been a gloomy week on the sunlit uplands of sovereign Britain as our willingness to roll over for a trade deal with Australia confirms that the government does not give a XXXX about its own farmers.
Despite complaints from that flaming galah George Eustice, trade secretary Liz ‘one stubbie short of a six-pack’ Truss is ready to complete an agreement with the Aussies that will phase out tariffs on beef and lamb exports over 15 years.
This will leave UK farms at risk of being undercut by Australia’s huge cattle and sheep stations, where concerns about standards and welfare and all that guff come second to sheer scale. It’s the “call that a knife?” scene in Crocodile Dundee all over again, but with added hormone injections.
All this is a particular embarrassment for environment secretary Eustice, whose face appeared on a Vote Leave leaflet during the referendum, headlined ‘Farmers will be better off if we leave the EU’. To give him his due, he might have meant Australian farmers.
They are understandably jubilant, with the Australian Agriculture Company chief executive Hugh Killen predicting their beef exports “could even increase tenfold”. That would be disastrous for the Scottish beef industry (and may in turn prove disastrous for Boris Johnson if disgruntled Scots ever get to vote again on independence).
But for drongo Truss, eager to pile up the deals even if they come at the expense of British business, it’s no biggie. Having recently told Andrew Marr she was unconcerned that the benefits of her agreement were five times bigger for the Aussies than for us, she has proclaimed the deal a “win, win, win”, claiming, “British farmers have absolutely nothing to fear from this deal at all.”
That fearlessness doesn’t seem to be shared by the farmers themselves, with National Farmers Union president Minette Batters saying the deal “will jeopardise our own farming industry and will cause the demise of many, many beef and sheep farms throughout the UK.” Neil Shand of the UK’s National Beef Association called it “scary”, while Phil Stocker, from the National Sheep Association said: “If the deal goes as reported it would really show our ministers’ true colours.”
Not so much win, win, win then as grim, grim, grim – particularly as Truss intends to use this deal as a basis for others with the likes of America, Brazil and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, flooding Britain with cheaper foreign imports and threatening other protected industries.
The farmers, meanwhile, join the fishermen and the Northern Ireland unionists in the growing camp of Brexit-voting blocs sold out by the Brexit government. For the 58% of farmers who voted Leave in the referendum, it is a particularly bitter case of reaping what you sow.
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