Immigration ministers have been accused of “ignoring” the needs of the fishing industry in northern Scotland.
Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael accused successive ministers of refusing to listen to the pleas of skippers to relax the rules around visas for non-EEA citizens wanting to work in the industry.
The former Scottish secretary told the Press and Journal that Theresa May’s “intransigence” on immigration had resulted in boats being “tied up around the coastline unable to go to sea”.
Under the current system, non-EEA nationals do not have free movement rights and are subject to the rules of the UK’s points-based system for immigration.
Workers in the fishing industry are classed as “low skilled” and as such there are greater restrictions placed on numbers.
Mr Carmichael said: “We were told in July by the immigration minister that she understood the urgency in relation to this and now here we are in April and we are still no further forward.
“That is a pretty poor way for a government that has promised the earth to fishing industry to behave.
“The work that was carried out for the government by migration advisory committee (MAC) in this area is one poorest pieces I have seen in 18 years, I would send it back to them and say that it looks like they have hardly applied their minds to it.
“In relation to the overall scheme of migration it’s poor but when it comes to the actual need for the fishing industry they have just been completely ignored.”
Mr Carmichael, raising the matter directly with ministers in the Commons, highlighted a section of the MAC report which he said suggested shortages in the fishing industry could be filled by young people on gap years.
He said: “According to the MAC, the answer to the crew shortages in our fishing ports is to crew boats using New Zealanders and Australians on a gap year. I just wonder what world these people live in.
“That is insulting, and it is not just an insult from the MAC, since the minister and her colleagues rely on the report as the basis for continuing to refuse the most modest and common-sense proposal, it is an insult from those on the Treasury bench themselves.”
He ended with a direct plea to immigration minister Caroline Nokes to “please listen”, she responded saying: “Governments should avoid picking particular sectors of the economy for special treatment. That would inevitably be a highly subjective process and a major distortion of the operation of the market
“The MAC has concluded that immigration is not the answer to depopulation in local areas — a point he referred to — and that there other measures that the Scottish Government could look to.”