Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has written to the Prime Minister to say the Pick for Britain campaign failed and the end of freedom of movement is “very concerning” for the country’s farmers.
Mr Ross has written to Boris Johnson pleading for a large increase to the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which would allow overseas labour to come to the UK post-Brexit.
The MP for Moray admits Scottish and UK workers would not fill the gap left by workers from EU and other countries and Pick For Britain had a “mere 15% success rate”.
The programme is set to allow 10,000 workers from non-EU countries access to employment on a short-term basis from next year.
But the National Farmers Union of Scotland said up to 40% of agricultural business could go to the wall if more workers are not allowed in — estimating a minimum requirement of 70,000 per summer for the whole of the UK at least, with 10,000 of those needed north of the border.
Every soft fruit farm in Scotland uses overseas labour, the withdrawal of which is proving of particular concern to business owners and farmers, Mr Ross added.
He said: “Freedom of movement comes to an end in 2021, which is a very concerning and uncertain prospect for the soft fruit industry.
“Specifically, with planning and investment for the 2021 season currently ongoing without knowledge of how they will harvest the crop.
“Regrettably, due to the Covid-19 crisis, we will see unemployment continue to rise.
“However, history has proved low rates of employment do not translate into an increase of local labour on farms.
“While the domestic population may be expected to fill the gap, the most recent campaign, Pick For Britain, proved beyond doubt this will not be the case with a mere 15% success rate.”
Promise to challenge UK party
Explaining another deviation from Westminster, Mr Ross said: “The UK Government’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme has been an important tool for our farmers. It has kept high-quality, fresh Scottish fruit flowing on to supermarkets shelves and into homes across the country.
“I have written to the Prime Minister to re-enforce that this scheme must be extended and expanded.
“Our soft fruit farmers deserve the certainty of knowing there are enough workers to give them the support they need.
“The Scottish Conservatives will work constructively with the UK Government, and challenge them where necessary, to make sure our farmers get the workers that they need to thrive.”
Mr Ross’s letter was sent to the Prime Minister on Friday.