Scotland is up in arms over what its leader claims is the cold shoulder from London and Canberra as the two chief parties to talks thrash out a proposed trade deal.
That view was dismissed by Westminster’s negotiatiors who described it as “simply wrong”.
At First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament, leader Nicola Sturgeon said she felt Scotland was being “shut out” of a potential deal with Canberra which could see Australia exporters granted tariff- and quota-free access to the UK market.
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 Department of International Trade 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.
Kept in the loop
“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.”
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.