Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom told MPs on the Efra select committee she was ‘ready for the fight’ with her French counterpart as Brexit talks get underway.
She was answering a question from committee chairman Neil Parish, who told her during a committee evidence session the French would look for ‘every reason known to man’ not to take British lambs.
Mrs Leadsom also defended Defra from suggestions it was not capable of taking over from EU bodies after Brexit and said the department was ‘conscious’ of the need to keep a regulatory environment which maintained high standards.
She added: “Within Defra we have a significant programme which is assessing the issues we need to address as we leave the EU. We are looking at assessing the gaps, if there are gaps, what they need to be filled with or who they need to be filled with.
“Of course, there is a lot of work to be done to assess exactly what personnel we will need in the UK to carry out roles that were perhaps carried out by people in locations in the EU, but likewise there will be things we no longer need to do.”
Mrs Leadsom claimed Defra was in the ‘top three’ departments for Brexit preparedness and revealed planning started the day after the referendum so there was a ‘good month’s worth of work’ ready when she took office.
There was an admission the department would be working with fewer staff, though this was said to be part of a ‘transformation’ to make it ‘leaner and fitter’.
Amid concerns Britain would not be able to press for high welfare standards in trade discussions, the Defra chief said she was aware of ‘exactly what World Trade Organisation standards require’, but she dismissed concerns a trade deal with the EU would take many years.
She said: “We have total regulatory equivalence with the EU, we are not Canada where there were a few hundred years of different rules and regulations which needed to be sorted out for the trade deal, or China where there are language barriers."