Former Australian PM Tony Abbott is now an advisor to the Board of Trade (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

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A UK adviser appointed by Boris Johnson rubbished claims animal welfare and environmental standards should be part of trade deals with other nations today.

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who sits on the Board of Trade, blasted suggestions that conditions should be slapped on pacts so foreign countries are forced to comply with British rules.

He claimed United Nations COP summits were a better forum for thrashing out environmental benchmarks.

He told the Commons International Trade Committee that when his Government was negotiating deals, he warned officials: “If you want a trade deal focus on trade.

“If you want to do an environmental deal or an animal welfare deal, do it through COP or through some other mechanism.

“Remember that the best is the enemy of the good.

“If we hold out for a deal which is absolutely perfect in every respect we may well never get it.

“But if we take the best we can get at this time, that's nearly always good in itself and is the best possible platform for further progress.”

Tony Abbott, in 2014 while he was Australian PM, hugging a koala with Vladimir Putin
(Image: AFP/Getty Images)

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Claiming he believed the environment was "incredibly important", he added: "If you try to do everything in a trade deal you'll end up doing nothing.

“There are other forums to pursue climate initiatives.”

His comments will generate fresh fears among critics of the UK's trade policy who believe rival nations will be able to export meat and other goods to Britain which have not been produced to high welfare standards.

They say that would make those products cheaper – and either force British producers to water-down their standards or make them unable to compete on price.

Former Trade Minister Mark Garnier told the committee he was once told by a trade adviser: “The best trade deal is when both sides are equally p***** off.”

Ex-trade minister Mark Garnier
(Image: AFP/Getty Images)

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Mr Abbott also accused the EU of wanting to “punish Britain for having the temerity to leave” the bloc.

His intervention came as the UK's chief Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost continued talks with continental counterpart Michel Barnier in Brussels aimed at thrashing out a trade deal.

Commons Business Select Committee chairman Darren Jones urged firms to reveal how prepared they are for the end of the Brexit transition on December 31.

He said: “We are only a matter of weeks away from the end of the Brexit transition period and it’s clear that few businesses feel ready for Brexit and what’s to come on January 1, 2021.

“Deal or no-deal, Brexit will bring huge changes for businesses at a time when they have been hit by the impact of coronavirus restrictions and, crucially, trying to deal with a lack of clarity from Government on many of the Brexit trade and regulatory issues which are coming down the track.”

Labour highlighted the potential plight of firms in Northern Ireland, which shares a 310-mile frontier with the Republic – the UK's only land border with the EU.

"Countless" businesses are expressing "frustration, anxiety and fear" over Brexit trading arrangements as the clock ticks down to 2021, Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Lou Haigh warned.

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Asking an urgent question in the Commons, she said “vital time has been squandered” in helping companies prepare.

She said: "The result of this recklessness, this incompetence, is that thousands of businesses still do not know the bare basics of how they will trade with Great Britain in just six weeks' time."

MPs pressed the Government to develop an implementation period to help Northern Ireland businesses deal with changes caused by Brexit.

DUP Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “There's cross-party and cross-community support for a period of time for implementation of these measures to allow our businesses, supermarkets and others to prepare properly."

Northern Ireland Minister Robin Walker said the Government was "delivering on our unequivocal commitment to unfettered access".