Brexit branded an 'unprecedented threat' to Scotland's farmers

Brexit poses an "unprecedented threat" to Scotland's agriculture sector it was claimed today, as news of a £2.1 billion boost for no-deal preparations was branded as proof that the UK government was "accelerating over the economic cliff edge".

Scotland's farmers are under threat by Brexit, it was claimed today, as no-deal preparations were stepped up by the UK government.
Scotland's farmers are under threat by Brexit, it was claimed today, as no-deal preparations were stepped up by the UK government.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said that the threat of Brexit has left agricultural workers highly concerned about their jobs and raised uncertainty about the future of farming subsidies.

Speaking ahead of a visit to the Black Isle show, Mr Rennie said: “Brexit poses an unprecedented threat to farming communities across the country. CAP subsidies are uncertain, businesses can’t effectively plan for the future and workers aren’t confident about the longevity of their jobs.

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“Boris Johnson is on a blustering tour of Britain but isn’t able to provide people with any straight answers. The truth is any form of Brexit will leave farmers and crofters worse off. The Liberal Democrats are determined to put a stop to Brexit and give the public the final say.”

Mr Johnson, who has visited Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland this week, has said that farmers would get the support they needed and that the government would help them to find new markets in the event of a no-deal, but has stressed his aim is to strike a new deal with the EU.

However it is understood that the government has a £500m plan to support farmers by buying slaughtered lambs and other livestock at a set price in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Farmers have already warned of "civil unrest" in rural areas if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal, as many are reliant on EU trade and could face expensive tariffs in a no-deal scenario.

Scotland's rural economy secretary, Fergus Ewing, has said he will hold a special "beef summit" in Stirling over the coming weeks to plan for Brexit. He said: “We know a no-deal Brexit is by far the biggest threat to farming and to our successful food and drink sector. As I have repeatedly highlighted, Scotland’s farmers would be worse off under every scenario when compared to the current trade arrangements.

“We are already seeing the EU and Irish government working together to support Irish beef farmers who have experienced significant price drops since Brexit was announced, and I have been in contact with the UK Secretary of State regarding the ongoing drop in the UK beef prices.

“I remain committed to seeing what can be done to help alleviate the price drop and the challenges faced, which is why I intend to chair a special beef summit in the coming weeks to hear directly from our farmers and trade bodies who are at the tip of the Brexit iceberg.

“I am clear that we will do everything within our power to support farmers during these turbulent times and urge the UK Government to sustain our beef sectors.”

Sheila Ritchie, the newly elected Scottish Liberal Democrat MEP added: “While the Tories continue to play chicken on Brexit, the situation is getting worse and worse for the agriculture industry and those employed within it.

“NFU Scotland has highlighted the mounting mental health issues faced by agricultural workers and an increase in deaths on Scotland’s farms and crofts. Farmers will undoubtedly be extremely anxious about the future of subsidies and trade relations.

“It’s time for Boris Johnson to stop his no deal threats, which wreak havoc and distress on Scottish farmers.”

Meanwhile SNP MP Stephen Gethins, the party's Europe and Foreign Affairs spokesperson, said the no-deal measures were “entirely avoidable” and "an ideological move that laid bare the Tories’ priorities".

The UK government’s funding plans for stockpiling supplies, tackling traffic disruption, and securing vital medicines, would take the total amount of Brexit preparation spending this year alone to more than £6bn.

Mr Gethins said: “Rather than working to avert a catastrophic no-deal exit, Boris Johnson is accelerating over the economic cliff-edge. With just three months to go before the revised Brexit date, Boris Johnson should be ruling out a no-deal exit and instead working towards bringing the Brexit chaos to an end - not pursuing an avoidable and purely ideological policy that lays bare the shameful priorities of this Tory government."

He added: “The staggering £6bn for a no-deal Brexit is a shameful waste of money at the same time as Tory welfare cuts are increasingly driving people to foodbanks and public services are still bearing the pain of Tory austerity.

“Boris Johnson’s adviser has already admitted that Tories don’t care about the NHS or the less well off – choosing to spend £6bn on preparations for an economically damaging no deal that will hit the poorest hardest confirms he was right.

“People in Scotland deserve the choice of a better future than the Brexit Britain being imposed on us. It's clearer than ever that the only way to properly protect Scotland's interests is by becoming an equal and independent European country.”

Labour's shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has also said the announcement of more money for no-deal preparations was an "appalling waste of taxpayers cash, all for the sake of Boris Johnson's drive towards a totally avoidable no-deal. This government could have ruled out no-deal and spent these billions on our schools, hospitals and people."