Status of EU nationals must be guaranteed - Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon will renew calls for the UK Government to guarantee the status of European Union (EU) nationals a year on from the Brexit vote.

Nicola Sturgeon will deliver the speech later today in Edinburgh. Picture; PA
Nicola Sturgeon will deliver the speech later today in Edinburgh. Picture; PA

Scotland’s First Minister will highlight the importance of EU workers to the farming sector as she marks the first anniversary of the referendum with a speech at the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston, Edinburgh.

Ms Sturgeon will say agriculture is an “important priority” for the Scottish Government in the Brexit negotiations and pledge to argue for the “best possible outcomes” for farmers.

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She will tell an audience of industry representatives: “EU workers are important to virtually all parts of the modern farming industry, from the laboratories of our research institutes to the fields of our fruit farms.

“The UK Government placed a great deal of emphasis on restricting freedom of movement. That seems to be the key reason why it is not pursuing single market membership.

“But Scottish agriculture, and Scotland more generally, has benefited enormously from freedom of movement. So as things stand, there is still a real danger that the UK Government will abandon something which is good for Scotland - membership of the single market - in order to restrict something else which is good for Scotland - freedom of movement.

“It’s a perfect example of the absurdity of the hard Brexit case that the UK Government was making. And it is a good demonstration of why the UK Government must change its approach.”

Setting out the government’s priorities for the negotiations, Ms Sturgeon will say: “We will emphasise the importance of tariff-free access for agricultural products. We will argue for the long-term future of farm payments. We will support freedom of movement, and do everything we can to encourage EU nationals to live, work and study in Scotland.”

Ms Sturgeon’s appearance before farming industry representatives comes after reports Scottish ministers have requested an extension to the deadline for processing European farming subsidies.

The Scottish Government was forced to seek an extension for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments last year after problems with its beleaguered £178 million IT system caused delays.

At First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon refused to confirm whether the Government had asked for another extension to the June 30 deadline this year, amid claims about a third of applications have not yet been dealt with.

A European Commission source later told STV News it had received a request to extend the deadline to October 15 for direct payments.