Scottish MPs have called for action from the UK Government to protect agriculture after Brexit, demanding a new rulebook for subsidies and the scrapping of a salary limit for immigration.
The Scottish Affairs Committee also called on ministers to go back to the drawing board on a no-deal Brexit tariff schedule that farmers say would expose key sectors of the economy to cheaper imports.
The package of measures proposed by the cross-party committee also includes calls to protect produce covered by the EU’s geographic indicators scheme, which recognises Scotch beef and lamb.
Scotland’s food and drink industry contributes £3.18 billion to the economy, even though most of Scotland’s farmers and crofters work on land classified as “less favoured” due to challenging conditions.
The Scottish Affairs Committee has called for a new agriculture subsidy regime to allocate funds to the four nations of the UK based on the proportion of least favoured land.
On immigration, the report argues that a pilot scheme to bring seasonal agricultural workers to the UK is insufficient, with room for only 2,500 workers as part of the trial.
The MPs call for that limit to be quadrupled, and for the scrapping of a proposed £30,000 salary requirement for workers to enter the UK to be abandoned.
It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to “back Britain’s great farmers” while on a visit to Wales yesterday to campaign in tomorrow’s Brecon and Radnorshire by-election,
Mr Johnson promised that Brexit would bring “enormous opportunities” for the countryside once the UK leaves the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
But he was challenged during his visit by a local sheep farmer, who told the Prime Minister to stop “playing Russian roulette” with British agriculture by risking a chaotic exit from the EU.
Mr Johnson insisted his government was committed to a deal. “We’re not aiming for a no-deal Brexit, we don’t think that’s where we’ll end up,” he said. “This is very much up to our friends and partners across the channel.”
Labour’s shadow environment and rural affairs secretary Sue Hayman said a no-deal Brexit would be “disastrous for the British food and farming sectors… it has to be stopped”. Pete Wishart, the SNP chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee, said implementing the report’s recommendations would give Scottish farmers “cause for optimism about the future of agriculture post-Brexit”.
Mr Wishart said leaving the EU should be used as an opportunity to “rewrite the rules of agricultural funding” so that Scotland’s challenging farming conditions are recognised.
The chairman also called on the government to “do much more to resolve the workforce crisis on Scottish farms”.
“The uncertainty surrounding no-deal tariffs and future of geographical indications must also be resolved so Scotland can be confident its agriculture sector will be protected and enhanced post-Brexit,” Mr Wishart said.
A UK Government spokesperson said: “For years, British farmers have been given a poor deal by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, which is why we want to change things for the better.
“As the Prime Minister has said, once we are out of the EU, we will have a historic opportunity to introduce new schemes to support farmers – and we will make sure that Scotland gets a better deal.
“We will also shortly be publishing the recommendations from an independent review, led by Lord Bew, looking at how future funding can be fairly allocated outside the EU. This will take into account the unique farming environments in certain parts of the UK.”