Thirty SNP politicians representing rural areas are demanding action from the UK Government to tackle Brexit-fuelled labour shortages that have left Scotland’s soft fruit farms in crisis.
The politicians have written to Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Environment Secretary Michael Gove with a series of questions and criticising the UK Government’s “desperately inadequate” response.
The action was taken as Theresa May cut short her summer break to met with French President Emmanuel Macron in an attempt to win support for her Brexit plan.
The Prime Minister travelled to president Macron’s summer residence in Fort de Brégançon, on a small island off the French Mediterranean coast, yesterday.
EU withdrawal has been blamed for the battle faced by farmers to recruit foreign workers to pick berries. Many farmers employ pickers from Eastern Europe, most of whom will no longer be able to come to Scotland when the free movement of people comes to an end.
The labour shortage has already had a devastating impact on some farms, with tonnes of fruit worth many hundreds of thousands of pounds to businesses being left to rot. Farmers are demanding a new seasonal workers’ scheme to be introduced to save their businesses.
The SNP letter asks UK ministers what action has been taken to resolve this year’s crisis and asks for emergency measures to be introduced by the autumn. The politicians also ask if the UK Government is consulting with the fruit farming sector.
The letter asks “when the sector can reasonably expect the UK Government to publish its plans for securing labour from abroad once we leave the EU? As well as if such plans include a new seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme?”.
Gail Ross, MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, said: “The Tory government was warned time and again that the Brexit vote was going to cause seasonal labour shortages and push food prices up as a result. So why, two years later, are we still waiting for action? “The Tories’ response and forward planning has been desperately inadequate – too many questions have been left unanswered for too long, while Scottish farmers lose out. “It’s simply not good enough. People’s jobs and livelihoods are at stake here, not to mention the future of agriculture in Scotland, and its world-class reputation.
“Scotland’s fruit and vegetable growers need more seasonal workers and they need them now. It is clear the only sensible path to protect jobs and prosperity in rural Scotland is to stay in the single market and customs union and fully devolve immigration powers to Scotland.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “We are working hard to ensure the labour needs of the agriculture sector are met once we leave the EU. We are determined to get the best deal for the UK in our EU negotiations, not least for our world-leading food and farming industry, which is a key part of our economic success.”