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Rural Scotland and Brexit

Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing has warned that reducing access to seasonal labour and skills from the EU by ending free movement will damage businesses in every sector of the rural economy.

Research has shown that the agricultural sector experienced a shortage of seasonal non-UK workers of between 15 and 20% last year, due to three overlying reasons. Firstly, many EU workers are choosing to leave the UK, not return, or not come here, due to continued uncertainty about their status after Brexit.

Additionally, membership of the EU has helped improve employment conditions and social protections in the country of origin of many EU seasonal workers. And finally, seasonal EU workers can earn more in the Eurozone due to the weak Pound.

While visiting Angus Growers, where the majority of workers are from the EU, Ewing says, “The soft fruit sector is one of Scotland’s success stories, with an estimated income of £134 million last year and having experienced considerable growth over the last decade. That growth is now at risk from Brexit due to the prospect of barriers to trade and labour being introduced.

“Stakeholders, such as Angus Growers, have repeatedly highlighted the fact that seasonal non-UK workers provide a significant, valuable contribution to the rural economy and that filling the employment gap, post-Brexit will be extremely challenging. So it is concerning that the UK secretary of state Michael Gove has failed to provide the complete clarity on future access to migrant agricultural workers, which he committed to by the end of March.

“The UK government could end this on-going uncertainty by committing to remaining in the EU single market and customs union – a position the Scottish government has continually argued for since the referendum. Such a position would demonstrate to seasonal workers that Scotland, and the whole of the UK remains an open and welcoming place to live and work.”

William Houston at Angus Growers says, “With the number of EU nationals looking for seasonal work in Scotland already dropping as their own economies expand and the Pound continues to decline, it is important that we are able to recruit workers from outside the EU. This is already happening in Portugal and Germany.”

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