Britain will not be able to feed itself without the help of seasonal non-UK labour after Brexit, according to the head of a farming union.
NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick said Scotland and the UK are “getting thrown into a meltdown situation as far as labour is concerned” in either a deal or no-deal scenario.
The warning came as a UK minister was photographed in Downing Street carrying a hand-written note reading: “No food, no Channel Tunnel”.
Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that the paper “looks just a bit too obvious” to be a warning about a no-deal Brexit. A Whitehall source was quoted saying the document carried by Mel Stride, the financial secretary to the Treasury, was a list of issues to raise at a meeting.
In a blog post on the NFU Scotland website, Mr McCornick said a UK government pilot of a Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme providing temporary visas for up to 2,500 non-EU nationals during the post-Brexit transition was insufficient.
Mr McCornick said: “Unquestionably, the obvious sectors that will feel it first will be fruit, veg and horticulture, requiring approximately 10,000 people per year in Scotland alone.
“It is much bigger than that, though. The largest manufacturing sector in the UK is food processing and a big part of their labour is non-UK - more than 50 per cent in the red meat sector; more than 90 per cent of vets in approved meat establishments; upwards of 30 per cent of the permanent staff in the dairy sector, and 40 per cent of staff in egg production.
“Huge numbers of lorries on our roads are driven by non-UK drivers (60,000 approx) and the retail sector requires large numbers of non-UK staff... We cannot feed our nation without this labour.”