Former environment secretary George Eustice has said that the UK-Australia free trade deal is “not actually a very good deal for the UK”.

Speaking during a Commons debate yesterday (Monday, November 14) Eustice, who helped secure the agreement, said: “Unless we recognise the failures that the Department for International Trade (DIT) made during the Australia negotiations, we won’t be able to learn the lessons for future negotiations.

“It has to be said that, overall, the truth of the matter is, that the UK gave away far too much for far too little in return.”

Eustice said the “failures” in the trade deal negotiations weren’t for “lack of trying” on his part, and that the few successful elements of the deal were “either predominantly or exclusively” negotiated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Farming organisations that spoke out against the deal at the time have responded to Eustice’s comments.

Civil society campaigners, Best for Britain, believe that Eustice should apologise for the trade deal.

Chief executive of the organisation, Naomi Smith, said: “We repeatedly warned that this deal would both dilute food and animal welfare standards in the UK and undercut British farmers while delivering next to no benefits.

“This admission makes the government look like dodgy PPI dealers. Eustice must now apologise for mis-selling the public this deal and Sunak must prioritise growth by improving the dud deals promoted by his predecessors and removing post-Brexit barriers to trade.”

The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) has said that it warned against the deal because it would give away “massive access to the UK food markets in exchange for negligible benefits”.

FUW president, Glyn Roberts, said that Eustice has “confirmed everything the FUW has stated throughout”.

“The positive spin given by Boris Johnson, ministers and MPs about these deals at the time was complete nonsense,” he said.

“We have always known and made clear that these deals sell UK farmers and food security down the river in exchange for virtually nothing.

“The UK gave away massive and ultimately complete access to our markets for beef, lamb and dairy products in exchange for minute benefits, all in order to meet deadlines for politically expedient press releases.”

UK-Australia free trade deal

The UK and Australia reached an agreement on international trade on June 14, 2021.

The deal was reached between former UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and former Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.

The final deal was signed in a virtual ceremony by former International Trade secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, on December 17, 2021.

The agreement “eliminates tariffs on all UK goods and boosting jobs and businesses across the country”, the UK government said, in what was the “first major trade deal negotiated from scratch” since the UK left the EU.

The FUW and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) were both publicly against the trade deal, with NFU president Minette Batters saying that it would “jeopardise” the UK farming industry.

Batters said the deal would “cause the demise of many, many beef and sheep farms throughout the UK”.

“We remain of the view that it is wholly irresponsible for government to sign a trade deal with no tariffs or quotas on sensitive products and which therefore undermines our own domestic economy and businesses,” she said.