A SOUTH Lakes MP has sounded the alarm over reports the government plans a trade deal with Australia that would make its food and farming imports cheaper.

Tim Farron has accused the government of betraying farmers in Cumbria and weakening British environmental and animal welfare standards, by preparing to sign up to a free trade deal with Australia.

And a prominent Cumbrian farmer warns of 'irreversible damage' from a bad deal.

The move is being considered as part of a free trade pact with Australia the UK government hopes will be a springboard for similar deals with other countries.There is speculation the Cabinet is split over the move, and Labour has accused the government of a "sell-out".

“So often Conservative ministers take to social media to say how much they love British farming but their proposed new trade deal with Australia shows that when push comes to shove they are perfectly happy to sell our farmers down the river," says Mr Farron.

He added: “The NFU are clear that letting Australian farmers sell their produce tariff-free into the UK would spell a disaster for small British family farms. Australian animal welfare standards are lower than the UK’s which makes for lower production costs and cheaper produce. Therefore the only way that small British family farms could compete would be to lower their own standards – which nobody except the Government wants them to do.”

National Farmers Union (NFU) Cumbrian council delegate and west Cumbrian farmer, Alistair Mackintosh warned UK farmers would struggle to compete if zero-tariff trade on lamb and beef goes ahead. 'This trade-off needs to be balanced,' he said.