Brexit: SNP criticism of Australia deal 'childish' says Downer
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The UK’s negotiating team – led by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss – are aiming to have a post-Brexit trade deal signed with Australia before the G7 summit in Cornwall on June 11. But the proposals for a zero-tariff and zero-quota trade deal has sparked a furious backlash from farmers, who have warned they face being undercut by a wave of meat imports from Australia that could flood the market under a free trade agreement. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has argued Scotland is being “shut out” of a potential Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Australia and warned the deal would be a “betrayal” of British farmers.
The Department of International Trade has denied this claim, insisting engagement is “taking place with all parts of the UK at all levels”.
A spokeswoman added: “Trade ministers have been discussing this with Scottish ministers throughout the process, most recently this week, and will continue to do so as we move forward in the negotiations.
“Any deal we sign will include protections for the agriculture industry and will not undercut UK farmers or compromise our high standards.”
But a spokesman for Ms Sturgeon raged: “Simply telling the Scottish Government and other devolved administrations what UK ministers have already decided unilaterally doesn’t qualify as engagement in any meaningful sense.”
Now Professor Alex de Ruyter, director of Birmingham City’s University Centre for Brexit Studies, has warned the trade deal could backfire on the Prime Minister, as areas of Scotland least likely to vote for the SNP could be most affected.
He suggested the potential impact on farming communities throughout Scotland could provide the SNP with an opportunity to attack Westminster for being “out of touch” and consequently build support in areas where the party is not so popular.
The political expert said: “Most beef and lamb in the UK tends to come from Wales and Scotland. Who in the UK is going to be most affected in terms of the farming community? – it’s going to be those in the Highlands and Perthshire and these sorts of areas.
“Those communities were the ones least likely to vote for the SNP.”
Professor de Ruyter also warned the UK is in danger of a “race to the bottom” with the post-Brexit trade deal with Australia, which could increase tensions between the devolved administrations.
He said: “I think we are in a danger of a race to the bottom.
“That is going to cause particular problems for the devolved administrations through the form of the Internal Market Bill that we have seen.
“Trade agreements are the preserve of the UK Government yet health, for example, is a devolved power.
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“I would be interested to see what happens if the UK Government negotiates a trade deal which gives, for arguments sake, American drug companies the right to charge higher prices to health boards.
“When the functional responsibility for that health board in Glasgow is with the Scottish Government, if they say no what happens then? You then end up with a situation where the UK Government might try and retract that power – it would be one of those things you would see going to the Supreme Court.”
The political, who is originally from Australia, claimed the benefits the UK would see if the proposed trade deal were to be signed could be minimal.
He added: “If you talk about things like manufacturing, the tariff regime in Australia on manufacturers are trivial to non-existent.
“So I don’t really expect any windfall for UK manufacturers anyway for obvious reasons, because companies tend to produce and sell in the regions they are based.
“That is one of the ironies of Brexit – there was a good reason why half of our trade was with the EU, because geography matters.
“Australia is actually very strong in the sectors the UK thinks it has an edge in. We have the big four banks in this country, so does Australia.
“If you think of a local example in Scotland, the Clydesdale Bank was owned by the National Australia Bank until recently. I don’t really expect any windfall there for the UK financial services, as otherwise they would be there already.”
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