If a no-deal Brexit emerges from the current political turmoil there would be no transition period so the free movement of people would stop immediately on March 29.
That is the situation as NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick sees it and to avoid catastrophic labour shortages he has called on the UK Government to give a strong policy statement on how they are going to fill the void of between 60,000 and 70,000 seasonal workers UK-wide.
“The soft fruit, vegetable and horticulture sectors are responsible for 10 per cent of Scotland’s agricultural output and require approximately 10,000 people per year for seasonal work,” Mr McCornick said.
“A shortfall in seasonal labour saw some crops in Scotland go unharvested last year and there are already signs that early in 2019, labour requirements in the South West of England are not being met.”
“The UK Government’s pilot Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme will allow temporary visas for up to 2,500 non-EU nationals to work in the sector through the Brexit transition period but worker shortages in 2018 were estimated to be about 10,000.
“Even if we get a deal with the EU, we certainly need a commitment to quickly ramp up the pilot scheme.”
Mr McCornick added that the UK Government’s White Paper on future immigration, published before Christmas, offers no assurances on what UK Government would do to ensure labour demands are met in a cliff-edge no-deal scenario.
He believes the current consultation on the Shortage Occupations List is dismissive of the Scottish industry’s needs.
“When we established a priority list immediately after the Brexit vote, labour requirements sat alongside the need for trade, policy and support. We cannot feed our nation post-Brexit without this labour,” he added.