The Government’s immigration policy is xenophobic and does not consider the needs of Scottish farmers and crofters, says John Finnie, Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands.
The Brexit seeds sown nearly four years are beginning to shoot, but will there be anyone left to gather the harvest?
Now the UK has left the EU, the reality of what that will mean for the agriculture sector is starting to become clear.
Until this point, much had been left unsaid, but as the Home Office revealed its new immigration criteria we now have some idea of the reality and the consequences.
In Scotland there have already been reports of a dip in the number of migrants coming to work on farms and this revised immigration system is certain to exacerbate the problem.
Indeed, you would struggle to design a better policy if your aim was to hobble Scottish agriculture.
There are also significant knock-on effects for the tourism and hospitality industries which, as we’re all aware, are a significant part of our food industry’s financial eco-system.
Looking just at meat production, a 2017 survey of Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers members showed a significant reliance on migrant labour, with more than half of the so called ‘unskilled’ workforce and 44 per cent of the ‘skilled workforce’ comprised of foreign nationals.
In that context, the impact of far tighter immigration rules can hardly be understated.
The Home Secretary’s glib assertion that employers will simply have to adjust betrays either a lack of understanding or a complete disregard for farmers and crofters.
It is an affront which is compounded by the fact that industry has less than a year to prepare for the coming changes, an all but impossible task.
The rhetoric coming from Home Secretary Priti Patel, urging employers to move away from ‘cheap labour from Europe’, exposes the underlying ideological agenda driving these changes.
It is the same distasteful attitude which has tainted the entire political landscape of the UK since the referendum campaign in 2016.
These new restrictions are enormously damaging to the farming industry, which inevitably leads one to the conclusion that their implementation is instead driven by base xenophobia.
It should also be unsurprising that in the development of this scheme, the UK Government has made no attempt to engage with Scotland’s Government or politicians.
Crofting and farming are integral industries in the Highlands and Islands which I represent.
But in developing this ill-conceived immigration policy, the needs of those living and working there have simply not been considered at all.
The shockwaves have been rippling since leave won a narrow victory nearly four years ago, but we have still not felt the full force of Brexit.
The shape of our trade deal with the EU remains an unknown quantity which could yet devastate Scottish agricultural exports.
The mantra was ‘let’s take back control’, but those who have seized the new powers simply don’t care about Scottish farmers and crofters.
John can be found tweeting at @JohnFinnieHI