GOVERNMENT officials have disputed the claim nine million UK sheep could face slaughter in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said a widespread cull was not something the Government was anticipating.

Darlington MP Jenny Chapman tweeted her concerns that "Defra has a no-deal contingency plan that would require the slaughter and burial of up to nine million sheep."

She said: "In the event of a no-deal, the tariffs set on sheep farmers would decimate the industry.

"Animal welfare standards would also be at risk because we could not impose strict regulations on countries outside the EU. If we were trading with USA, the World Trade Organisation does not allow us to insist on animal welfare standards. Similar concerns are being made by egg and poultry farmers, and the beef industry could also be affected."

Ms Chapman added: "The solution is a Brexit deal, and that we put minimum welfare standards in UK law."

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union, said: "In a no-deal scenario, a new tariff wall will make it incredibly difficult for UK farmers to access the EU market, resulting in oversupply in our own domestic market."

Ellie Phipps, communications officer for National Sheep Association, said: "We export 40 per cent of sheep meat, and 96 per cent of that 40 per cent goes to the EU. With a no-deal, that would become untenable.

"Farmers would stop trying to export the lamb and flood the local market, and would not be able to sell it. The best thing would be for the Government to come up with a solution – proposals at the moment include a 'ewe headage payment' which would see a farmer paid for how many ewes they have.

"But we want to see something that underpins the market better. World Trade Organisation rules governments can not pay farmers to offset tariffs, but we would like to see money that helps farmers carry on exporting."

A Defra spokesman said: “A widespread cull of livestock is absolutely not something that the Government anticipates nor is planning for in the event of no-deal. We have contingency plans in place to minimise any disruption, and we have made it clear we will use our power to intervene to provide direct support to the most vulnerable sectors, such as sheep farmers, if required.”

He added: "As any responsible Government would, we are preparing for the possibility of no-deal and there is significant work underway to ensure that UK exporters can maintain access to EU markets. We are working closely with the UK’s sheep farmers to understand how we can help them adjust and maintain trade continuity.

The government has pledged to continue to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this parliament, expected in 2022. This includes all funding provided for farm support under both Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 of the current CAP. This commitment applies to the whole UK.

We are in close contact with the NFU and other farming representatives across the UK.