Accusations from Scotland’s First Minister that the UK government is not engaging with the devolved nations on a proposed trade deal with Australia are “simply wrong”, the Department for International Trade (DIT) said.
At First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon said she felt Scotland was being “shut out” of a potential deal with Canberra – which could grant tariff and quota-free trade.
The First Minister went on to claim the deal would be a “betrayal” of British farmers, adding that food imports must meet the standards of production in Scotland.
But a spokeswoman for the DIT rejected Sturgeon’s assertion. “It is simply wrong to suggest the Government is not engaging on this issue,” she said.
“Engagement on the UK-Australia FTA (free trade agreement) is taking place with all parts of the UK at all levels.
“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.
“Officials from the governments of Scotland and Wales and the Northern Ireland Executive receive weekly updates from the negotiation team, on top of being involved in countless hours of technical policy discussions.
“Any deal we sign will include protections for the agriculture industry and will not undercut UK farmers or compromise our high standards.”
The DIT has said there was a meeting with Scottish Government ministers on the deal this week, and all devolved administrations receive weekly updates.
But Sturgeon said Scotland’s Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon and business minister Ivan McKee used the meeting to voice their concerns over the deal, which they say could be “devastating” for the farming sector.
The proposed deal has also caused concern with other ministers, with Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove fearing it could fuel support for Scottish and Welsh independence, while Environment Secretary George Eustice has backed the protestations of farmers, who fear the impact any deal may have.