UK agriculture and brexit

Agriculture in Scotland to Feel ‘Devastating’ Loss of European Staff

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Scottish National Party MP Dave Doogan took Prime Minister Boris Johnson to task regarding the highly likely possibility that the UK’s soft fruit farms and agricultural businesses will suffer as they lose staff post-Brexit.

European migrants have long been essential to the agriculture and horticulture industries but as the political quagmire of Brexit has dominated so much of the political landscape, many Europeans have shunned the previously popular role, fearing uncertainty over their status should they migrate to the UK.

UK agriculture and brexit
The UK’s agriculture and horticulture sector depend heavily on European and migrant labour. [Image: Hall Hunter Partnership, The Times].

Doogan asked the Prime Minister about the impending shortage during Prime Minister’s Question Time, speaking of his own constituency Angus, Scotland which requires at least 4,000 workers to avoid waste and ensure fruit is picked efficiently. Doogan said he had also written to the Home Secretary Priti Patel asking for further research to be done on the current immigration limits which significantly impact the loss of labourers and therefore agriculture as a whole.

Doogan said: “The Tories need to face up to the mess they’ve created and meet the needs of Scottish farmers by raising the seasonal worker cap.”

Doogan added that Holyrood should be given “full control” if the Conservatives “continue to fail” Scottish farmers on the issues raised. However, considering Johnson has just turned down the request from First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, for a second Scottish independence referendum, and the denial of this request labelled by SNP Westminster leader “undemocratic, unacceptable and completely unstainable”, it seems likely tensions between SNP and Westminster will increase.

“The Tories need to face up to the mess they’ve created and meet the needs of Scottish farmers by raising the seasonal worker cap.”

Dave Doogan, SNP MP

Boris Johnson said in his reply to Doogan: “We have doubled the scheme and we will make sure the entire country does have access to the seasonal workforce it needs. That is why we are introducing a points-based immigration system which will enable this country to get the skills that it needs.”

The issue is that this points-based system actively discriminates workers who would be migrating to the UK without many of the stipulations the new immigration system requires. The Australian immigration system has long been touted by Conservative and right-wing politicians as the ideal.

The UK already has requirements in place for migrants coming to the UK outside of the EU, such as competency in the English language, sponsorship from a company that will be a migrant’s employer and earning a certain salary. The issue with applying this across the board to European citizens is that roles such as seasonal fruit pickers won’t meet these requirements, yet they are still essential to the UK’s agriculture industry. Further still, migrants who come to assist in Britain’s thriving farming sector are no less worthy to the UK economy and society than ‘skilled’ individuals who work in the NHS.

It seems likely tensions between SNP and Westminster will increase.

The last official documentation from the Government regarding EU seasonal workers was published in March 2019 and is extremely scarce, simply stating EU citizens are still able to come to the UK for seasonal and agricultural work post-Brexit but with no explanations or clarity for employers or migrants. Considering how challenging the entire process of implementing Brexit has been and is continuing to be, both concerned employers in Britain and potential workers need a little more than the Government’s barely-there posters which offer very little guidance.

The Government needs to reflect on its position and ensure the industries, as Doogan says, aren’t left wanting. Unfortunately, that is unlikely, and instead we will all feel the effects of the Tories turning their backs on the continent.