The UK Government is planning to throw Scottish farmers and crofters “under the Brexit bus”, Ian Blackford has warned.
During PMQs, the SNP’s Westminster leader called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to categorically rule out that his government will sign up to a trade deal which would guarantee tariff-free access to Australian lamb and beef.
Johnson told Blackford that he was “grossly underestimating” the ability of people living across Scotland and the UK.
Blackford said: “As a member of Scotland’s crofter community, I understand just how disastrous a Brexit trade deal with Australia, as proposed by this Tory government, would be for Scotland’s farming and crofting sectors.
“If reports of this Tory deal are true, farmers will lose their livelihoods, rural businesses will collapse and ultimately, families will be driven off the land.
“And let’s be very clear – if that happens, this UK Tory government will be solely responsible. So, just for once Prime Minister, give a straight answer to these farming and crofting families who are living with this threat.
“Can the Prime Minister categorically rule out that his government is prepared to sign up to a trade deal that will at any future point guarantee tariff-free access to Australian lamb and beef? Yes, or no?”
Johnson responded: “I know that the right honourable gentleman… I’m delighted to see shots of his croft by the way, the humble representative of the crofting community.
“May I say that I don’t think that he does justice to crofters, to farmers, across the country, and in Scotland as well because I think he grossly underestimates their ability to do great things with our free trade deals, to export Scottish beef around the world.
“Why doesn’t he believe in what the people of Scotland can do? Why is he so frightened of free trade? I think there’s a massive opportunity for Scotland and for the whole of the UK and he should seize it and be proud of it.”
Blackford said that Conservative colleagues of Johnson had privately indicated that the Prime Minister should pull back from the deal.
He said: “That was quite chilling. To try and treat something as serious as this in the way that the Government and the Prime Minister has done is really quite pathetic.
“The fact that the Prime Minister couldn’t give a straight answer will send a real chill across Scotland’s farming communities.
“The UK Government led the betrayal of Scottish fishing and now the Tories are planning to throw our farmers and crofters under the Brexit bus.”
He continued: “This morning, Martin Kennedy, president of the National Farmers Union Scotland, told ITV that farmers will feel seriously betrayed by these proposals.
“This deal would be the final nail in the coffin for many Scottish crofters and farmers, it will end a way of life that has endured for generations, generations Prime Minister.
“I know that many of the Prime Minister’s Tory colleagues privately agree with me and want him to pull back from this deal.
“So, will the Prime Minister finally listen, think again and ditch a deal that would send our farmers down under?”
Johnson insisted that Blackford “should be proud” of the UK’s food exports.
He said: “Well, first of all, he’s totally wrong about what he says about the fisheries because in fact there are massive opportunities for fisheries for the whole of the UK as we take back control of our territorial waters and that will be the same for Scotland and around the UK.
“And, again, he is grossly underestimating the ability of the people of this country, the agricultural communities of this country, the farming industry, to make the most of free trade.
“This is a country that grew successful and prosperous on free trade, on exporting around the world. Our food exports are second to none.
“He should be proud of that, he should be celebrating that and all he does is call for us to pull up the drawbridge and go back into the EU to be run by Brussels, that’s his manifesto and I think the people of this country have decisively rejected it.”