Scotland politics

Ruth Davidson gives farmers migrant worker assurance

Cows Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The agricultural industry in Scotland relies to a large extent on the EU's Common Agricultural Policy

The Scottish Conservative leader has insisted UK ministers recognise farmers' concerns about access to migrant workers post-Brexit.

Ruth Davidson said that the country needs an immigration policy which serves agriculture as its top priority.

She was speaking at the NFU Scotland AGM in Glasgow.

Many farmers have raised concerns about access to eastern Europe workers who are considered vital to areas like fruit-picking.

But the Scottish Tory leader said a deal was needed which would not deprive the economy of labour.

Ms Davidson appeared to back the continuation of subsidies, telling farmers she would be pressing their case to UK ministers "as forcibly as I can."

And she again urged First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to drop the threat of a second referendum on independence, insisting "we are moving towards a system of shared power in the UK."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Ruth Davidson said she did not believe Scotland needed a separate immigration policy

Ruth Davidson was speaking on the first day of the annual conference and AGM of NFU Scotland at the Radisson Blu hotel in Glasgow.

With the agricultural industry in Scotland so reliant on the EU through the Common Agricultural Policy, the agenda has been heavily dominated by Brexit.

Ms Davidson told delegates: "I also know that the concerns of vegetable farmers in Fife are the same as those of apple farmers in Cornwall.

"I don't think - therefore - that the answer is to create separate immigration policy by region or geography.

"I think we need an immigration policy that works for sectors in the economy, with agriculture at the top of that list.

"I can assure you the UK government recognises this issue. I intend to keep pressing them on it. For me it is simple. Managing immigration is right: depriving the economy of labour it needs is not."

Trade tariffs

A panel of speakers had previously discussed possible trade tariffs which may exist if UK ministers do not reach a deal at the end of the two-year Brexit negotiations.

Ms Davidson insisted her priority was to help secure "the full, comprehensive free trade deal with the European Union" proposed by the prime minister.

She went on: "Of course, that isn't the only place where great Scottish produce can be exported to.

"We all know the potential for Scottish food and drink in emerging and established markets in Asia, the Americas and beyond.

Ms Sturgeon will address the NFU conference on Tuesday.

Responding to Ms Davidson's speech, SNP MSP Maree Todd said: "The level of Tory arrogance on Brexit is astonishing. Indeed, on the day that a Scottish Parliament committee unanimously agrees that Scotland should be able to set a bespoke immigration policy, it is absolutely extraordinary that Ruth Davidson can tell an audience of farmers - whose workforces rely strongly on EU nationals - that she knows better than all of them."

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles said: "If Ruth Davidson really had the ear of Theresa May she would be able to immediately announce that no one in the agricultural sector would lose a penny as a result of the loss of CAP payments that will result from her party's hard Brexit agenda."