By Andrew Midgley, Projects and Research Manager at Scottish Land & Estates
It is still very early days in the Brexit saga and trying to discern the likely path forward – no matter what organisation or interest you represent - is fraught with difficulty.
Although there is little certainty about the future, we have to look forward because the shape of policies that will come into force are already being developed and influenced in ongoing debates.
Whatever happens it will affect farmers and land-based businesses in Scotland. Alongside our counterparts in England and Wales, the Country Land & Business Association (CLA), we have produced a short series of papers studying the measures required to develop world leading food, farming and environmental policy.
Among the areas where we have focused our immediate attention are labour and trade – two important areas for Scottish agriculture.
We know the Scottish Government has placed improving the vibrancy of the rural economy as a key priority and workers from EU countries will continue to play an important role in achieving that aim. Farms and other rural businesses need to plan for the future and will want to know that after Brexit there will still be a flexible, skilled and secure workforce so they can continue to invest in their businesses and secure or create jobs.
As a result, we have asked that should free movement of labour be curtailed post-Brexit, that the UK Government prioritise the creation of a seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme enabling people to enter the UK for a specific job, for a set period of time without the right to remain afterwards. Similar schemes have worked well in the past in agriculture and will help farmers. Tourism is another important sector for our members and similar schemes will also be needed in such sectors.
Similarly, failing to secure strong trade opportunities for agricultural products will put Scottish and UK food security and the environment at risk.
The public are used to a level of food choice that is only possible through strong import and export markets. If we don’t have this, we could see food prices on the shelves rising and a stark lack of choice for the consumer. Without strong markets many farmers could go out of business, which has consequences for their stewardship of the land and the environment and the additional public benefits that delivers.
We have yet to see clear leadership come to the fore on Brexit but Scottish agriculture is realistic enough to know that matters are likely to become even more uncertain before we establish our future landscape.
What must not happen, however, is for Scottish agriculture to face trade barriers with other parts of the UK thanks to poor decision-making at the current time. Just as the decision taken to leave the EU will change the relationship between the UK and the world, it will also require a re-evaluation of the ways of working between Westminster and Holyrood.
It is critical, therefore, that Scottish Ministers do everything possible to ensure that rural businesses in Scotland prosper from the new arrangements. We need to ensure that Scotland’s needs are heard so that we can deliver our own objectives for farming, for the environment and for our rural communities.