Government accused of dragging its heels over trade and agriculture commission

The Tories have faced fresh criticism over a new commission intended to scrutinise all of the UK’s trade deals for their impact on agriculture.

Holyrood and Westminster politicians have slammed the Conservatives after it emerged a permanent commission on trade and agriculture had still not been formally constituted.

That is despite agreement in principle being reached over a post-Brexit trade agreement with Australia.

MP Alistair Carmichael said concerns remained over the impact the deal could have on isles crofters and farmers.

“Months have passed since the interim Trade and Agriculture Commission filed its first report and there has been no sign of any response from the government – or any attempt to set up the permanent Commission.

“Conservative promises about transparency on trade deals when they rejected bill amendments to protect farmers and crofters look increasingly empty as we see the reality of their weak negotiations with potential partners.

“We have to judge this government based on its track record and its record suggests that if a project can be executed in a slapdash and indifferent manner then that is how it will be executed.

“Hill farming and crofting are the economic backbone of some of our most economically fragile communities to be found anywhere in the country. We either choose to keep these practices viable or we do not – if the attitudes shown around the planned Australian trade deal and its scrutiny are any indication, this government wants the illusion of a deal to trump the reality for farmers and crofters.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish government says its rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon has written to international trade secretary Liz Truss three times requesting an “urgent” meeting about the deal.

Concerns raised included the implications for farmers of increased tariff-free quotas.

A spokesman said a letter had been received from the Minister of State for Trade Policy Greg Hands – however this did not provide sufficient assurance.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has defended the deal, insisting “safeguards” would be built in.

The government said in a statement it was grateful to the Trade and Agriculture Commission for their report and was considering the recommendations. It added a response will be published in due course.

“Our response will set out how we aim to meet the immense opportunities the UK now has as an independent trading nation, while also upholding the government’s commitment to maintaining and protecting the UK’s high agri-food safety standards.”

• Full story in Landwise, in tomorrow’s Shetland Times.

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