Matthew Lynn Matthew Lynn

Boris must stand up to farmers – and back the Australia trade deal

(Getty images)

Farms will be devastated. The countryside will be ruined. And we will all be forced to eat weird food that will probably kill us. As the government tries to finalise a free trade deal with Australia, there are already reports of fierce rows over the future of agriculture played out against a backdrop of a angry backlash from the farming lobby. 

It’s time for the government so face up to these critics. True, farming is not crucial to the future of the British economy, and neither, as it happens, is trade with Australia. But the principle is important – and if the UK doesn’t embrace free trade then leaving the EU will hardly have been worth the bother. 

Over the next few weeks, we can expect to hear plenty of arguments against the deal

The UK’s trade deal with Australia could be finalised before the summer is over. It should remove all tariffs and quotas between the two countries, create a measure of free movement for people; and, most importantly, create a template for similar deals across the Pacific. 

There is one snag, however. Australia produces lots and lots of high quality beef and lamb, usually very cheaply. Our farmers have been shielded by punitive EU tariffs for half a century. Expose them suddenly to free competition, and they could be wiped out.

Over the next few weeks, we can expect to hear plenty of arguments against the deal. We will be lectured on how trade with Australia is worth only a fraction of a percentage point on GDP, and will be far less than the damage done to our farming industry. We will hear lots about safety standards (just wait until Jamie Oliver gets involved) and even more about the potential knock-on impact on the countryside.

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