Boris promised farmers £25m on his recent visit to Scotland, only to pledge the same cash to the NHS a few days later – proving he will not do what it takes to secure the ag industry’s future, says Mike Rumbles, rural affairs spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
Boris Johnson has promised Scottish farmers extra support after Brexit.
But unfortunately, the £25 million pledged as part of a ‘Brexit Dividend’ during his visit to Scotland was also promised to the National Health Service only a few days later.
The reality is the extra capital our new Prime Minister has found down the back of the sofa is part of an emergency borrowing fund set aside by the former Chancellor in the case of a no-deal or damaging exit from the European Union.
The EU provides over £500 million in ring-fenced funding support every year for farmers in Scotland.
Money the UK currently gives to the EU will no longer be ring-fenced after 2022 and every Government department in both London and Edinburgh, from Health and Policing to Education, will want a share of that pot.
Everyone who works in our agricultural sector knows the Common Agricultural Policy is not perfect and Scotland would benefit from a system of support which promotes our unique landscape and produce.
Sixty percent of our agricultural exports, however, are sold in Europe and if we want to continue to trade with the continent, farm businesses will need to conform to the regulatory standards set out by EU policy.
After Brexit, we will also be competing with producers from across the world and it looks increasingly likely that the UK will have to pay its contractual £40 billion share for unresolved projects before the EU will even consider trade talks.
The UK Government has already revealed it cannot deliver on its promises to farmers.
All over Scotland farmers are desperate for seasonal workers, and despite the warm words, it is clear UK Ministers are more concerned about the public perception of immigration than delivering the workforce needed for our agricultural sector.
The current limit of 2,500 places for seasonal workers is nowhere near enough – it is only a quarter of what is needed in Scotland.
For example, one farmer in Fife told my colleague Willie Rennie that he needs 20 workers to harvest his crop, but he only received places for 8. That will cut the potential output in half.
What makes matters worse is in Scotland we have a Government which is more interested in creating division and building support for a second independence referendum than providing for our rural and remote communities.
I very much doubt either of our distracted Governments will really prioritise our agricultural industry over the next few years.
It is time for Ministers to put aside wishful thinking and actually deliver what is in the best interests of our farm businesses and producers.
That means keeping our close ties to the EU, creating a new system of agricultural support which plays to Scotland’s strengths and delivering a fair long-term funding settlement so farmers can plan over decades not months.