The rest of the UK now knows what Wales has long known - Alun Cairns is a fool

Boris Johnson with Alun Cairns during a visit to Barry Island in South Wales. (Frank Augstein/PA)

Boris Johnson with Alun Cairns during a visit to Barry Island in South Wales. (Frank Augstein/PA) - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

A car-crash interview on the BBC's Today programme has put the hapless Welsh secretary in the wider spotlight for perhaps the first time.

Welsh secretary Alun Cairns (Pic: Government of UK)

Welsh secretary Alun Cairns (Pic: Government of UK) - Credit: Government of UK

With one of the lowest-profile positions in the Cabinet, many will not have heard of Welsh secretary Alun Cairns before his hapless Today programme appearance in which he appeared to struggle with the notion of EU trade deals. But for those who have followed his career, it was no surprise.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, there could be a 40% tariff on lamb and sheep meat exports if the UK ended up trading with the EU on WTO terms. The NFU has even warned of a danger of mass slaughter of livestock.

Asked what other markets would be available to farmers by October 31, Cairns said: "I would point to the market in Japan that has just been opened to Welsh and British sheep for example, now that is a new market for us, so exports are already taking place there, but that is a significant market for which we haven't even scratched the surface yet."

Except, of course, the Japanese market has been opened up due to a trade deal with the EU. Which the UK is due to leave. And Japan is not one of the deals which the government has negotiated to roll over post-Brexit. (And, as many pointed out on Twitter, lamb is hardly a staple part of the Japanese diet anyway). But never mind. Cairns just buckled down. "There will be these markets and these opportunities there," he repeated.

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The Boris Johnson-like disregard for the minutiae will be recognisable to those who witnessed Cairns' time as a member of Wales' National Assembly, where he sat for 12 years and where his name tended to be prefixed with "fun-loving". Noted for a tendency for boorish heckling from the Assembly's semi-circular benches (designed precisely to avoid such frat-boy antics) and a predilection for garish trousers, his lapses of judgement culminated in having to resign the shadow cabinet after describing Italians as "greasy wops" in a live Radio Cymru interview. He was later reinstated.

His political persona a state of permanent fury at something or other - in his press releases he was inevitably "alarmed" at everything from police numbers to the state of a public toilet in Bridgend - in 2010 he was elected as an MP for Vale of Glamorgan. He stayed on at the Assembly, but rarely turned up, displaying much the same conscientiousness as Boris Johnson, his new boss, did in his final year in office as London mayor.

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He was a surprise choice as Welsh secretary in 2016, but it's hardly been a position the Tories have put their brightest and best in since taking office in 2010 (with the possible exception of the now long-forgotten one-time leadership contender Stephen Crabb). And the Conservative benches in the Commons aren't exactly creaking with Welsh talent.

Following his radio meltdown today, many more will now know that Cairns is the Johnson government's Chris Grayling. But we could have told you that.

Matt Withers writes for The New European and is a former Welsh Assembly correspondent

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