THE SNP have rubbished claims by Scottish Secretary Alister Jack that the UK’s trade deal with Australia will be a “huge opportunity” for Scotland’s food and drink industry.

Their criticism came as farmers and crofters today co-signed a letter to Boris Johnson, warning that the proposed agreement threatens their future.

Jack told BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show that safeguards against the UK market being “swamped” with imports will be put in place.

He said: “I think it will also take us into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it’s a gateway deal into that, which is a huge, huge opportunity for Scotland’s food and drink industry.”

Jack said Scotland will “benefit more than any other part of the UK” from the deal, but the UK Government will not discuss the details of the negotiation in public.

However, he said: “We won’t be taking chlorinated chicken in any trade deal we do, that’s illegal in the UK. We won’t be taking hormone-induced beef, that’s illegal. We will have safeguards in around the amount of product coming, so we won’t see the market swamped.”

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Deidre Brock (above), the SNP’s environment, food and rural affairs spokesperson at Westminster, said the Tories had sidelined Scotland’s farming and crofting communities and dismissed their concerns throughout their negotiation of the Australian deal.

She warned: “The viability of many farms will be put in danger if the UK Government signs a post-Brexit deal that undercuts the price and standards of Scottish beef, lamb and other produce.

“Yet again, Scotland’s interests are being thrown under the Brexit bus – just as they were when the Tories sold our fishing communities out.

“Scotland is increasingly vulnerable under Westminster control.

“The SNP will continue to stand up for our farming communities but it is clearer than ever that the only way to keep Scotland safe from the long-term damage of a hard Brexit and Tory trade deals is to become an independent country.”

The letter to the Prime Minister was written by Perthshire South and Kinross-shire MSP, Jim Fairlie (below), a former sheep and cattle farmer.

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He said he shares the concerns of the farming and food production sector that they will be “severely undercut” by any agreement that grants tariff and quota-free access for Australian beef and lamb.

Fairlie urged Johnson to heed warnings from the Scottish and UK presidents of the National Farmers’ Union, who had described the plans as a “serious betrayal” and “unbearable”.

His letter was co-signed by leading figures in Scotland’s farming industry, including Scottish Land and Estates, Scottish Butchers’ Federation and the National Sheep Association Scotland, as well as several individual farmers.

Fairlie wrote: “Scotland is world-renowned for our high-quality meat products which face being seriously undermined by lower-quality products from Australian markets.

“This threatens the very future of farmers and crofters in Scotland’s agriculture sector, many of whom have built up their businesses through generations and made farming a way of life.”

He said the NFU Scotland had already written to set out their proposals to Johnson, including the use of Tariff Relief Quotas – as implemented in the recent deals with Japan and Canada – as well as a proper cost and benefit balance.

“Scotland’s farmers are amenable to taking advantage of any proposed deal, as long as they have the tools and a level playing field in which to deal,” said Fairlie. “Scotland’s food production industry has already suffered as a result of the pandemic and Brexit and we cannot afford to have our industry treated as collateral damage in any attempt to push through trade deals with other nations.” Hesaid Mairi Gougeon, Holyrood’s Secretary for Rural Affairs, also wrote to International Trade Secretary Liz Truss more than three weeks ago, but was yet to receive a response.

READ MORE: Alister Jack claims Australian trade deal offers 'huge opportunity' for Scotland

Fairlie said farming was vital to the economy in his and many other constituencies, and added: “It is imperative that you heed the warnings from industry leaders and farmers themselves at the dangers this deal proposes and the untold damage it could impose on the industry.

“Opening up the Australian market to tariff-free access will open the flood gates for other countries with lower food quality standards, such as the USA, to seek the same deal, which would have the potential to impose yet further devastation.”