WESTMINSTER’s blatant Brexit power grab is designed to allow the Tories to sell Scotland’s farmers and fishermen down the river in return for trade deals, Michael Russell has claimed.

Speaking during a fringe event at SNP conference yesterday, the Scottish Brexit minister said he believed the UK Government would sacrifice regulations over quality of food if it meant securing a trade deal. But for this to happen, he argued, Westminster would need power over Scotland’s agriculture and fisheries.

The minister said he had yet to see any real opportunities presented by Brexit. “People occasionally say ‘look at these wonderful trade targets that are going to be secured by [International Trade Secretary] Liam Fox’.

“Well two problems: one is Liam Fox, the second is they simply don’t exist.”

He said the UK Government would be stymied in its trade talks with Europe as it was completely unwilling to make any changes to immigration.

Russell added that Fox and his team would be so desperate for a trade deal that they would have no choice but to take one that meant lowering food standards to allow cheap imports of meat from overseas.

“One of the reasons why there’s an attempt to diminish the powers of the Scottish Parliament, particularly agriculture and fisheries, is that they want to trade away to the lowest common denominator some of the agricultural issues” Russell said.

“Not just chlorinated chicken, but beef from Brazil and things like that.

“They cannot do that if the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Parliament are saying ‘no we’re not going to allow that to happen – that’s within our devolved powers’.”

Fox’s most recent trip to the US was dominated by the issue of chlorinated chickens. They are much cheaper than British chickens, because the American abattoirs simply chlorinate the poultry at the end of the line. Under current EU rules, UK farmers have much higher standards at every step of the process

At the time, a source close to Fox was quoted by The Telegraph saying he believed that “Americans have been eating it perfectly safely for years” and that any meaningful trade deal with the US would have to include agriculture.

Earlier, when asked directly during a fringe event if he thought Brexit would definitely happen, Russell replied: “The likelihood is it will happen, but having been in this job for 14, 15 months I’m not prepared to rule out any eventuality, probably not even alien invasion.”

He added: “The reality of the situation is that I don’t know. I think it is likely to happen. We are working on a range of scenarios from really, really crashing out without an agreement through to soft Brexit, but I wouldn’t rule anything out.

“You have a UK Government that’s as weak as you can possibly imagine. It’s obsessed with infighting. It’s desperately unstable. But then you have an opposition party which does not know what its policy should be.”

He also warned of a looming crisis in Scotland’s hospitality sector, claiming businesses in his own constituency would face real difficulty in staffing their operations next summer.

Meanwhile, delegates at the conference overwhelmingly backed calls recognising the importance of the single market.

With the fifth round of Brexit negotiations between London and Brussels beginning today, Russell told the party faithful he wanted the Tories to commit to three things.

He said: “With EU negotiations due to re-start and MPs returning to the House of Commons, the UK Government should commit to remaining inside the single market and the customs union to protect jobs; guarantee the rights of EU citizens to end the unacceptable uncertainty they’ve been subjected to for 15 months; and amend the EU Withdrawal Bill to protect devolution and stop the Westminster power grab.

“All of these commitments could be given immediately – and they will the fill the void left by Tory infighting.

“It is essential that the tone with Brussels is re-set, the devolved administrations are listened to, and business and investors are given some much-needed certainty.”