Ensuring that powers over agriculture policy return to the Scottish Parliament is the only way to protect Scotland’s farming industry from the worst of an extreme Brexit, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said last Friday.
Addressing an audience of industry leaders at the Royal Highland Show on the first anniversary of the EU referendum, she highlighted the importance of tariff-free trade deals in all sectors – including agriculture – in allowing rural communities to prosper.
She stated that indications from the UK Government that it intends to ensure all repatriated EU competences are initially exercised solely by Westminster would fundamentally undermine the basis of the existing devolution settlement.
The First Minister said that Scottish Parliamentary scrutiny and approval is the only way to negotiate crucial free-trade status for the Scottish agricultural sector, in contrast to the UK Government’s determination to pursue a hard Brexit without clarity on single market status.
Speaking after the address, the First Minister said:
“The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that all parts Scotland flourish. By definition, we cannot achieve that unless rural Scotland prospers.
“Brexit will change Scotland and the UK fundamentally – and an extreme Brexit, such as the one the UK Government still seems intent on pursuing, will maximise the damage.
“But the immediate priority for action is to work with anyone and everyone – including the UK Government, and other political parties – to ensure that the UK as a whole adopts the least damaging approach possible.
“And, of course, in doing that, we know that there are particular issues and complexities relating to farming.
“That includes proposals to see all powers repatriated from Brussels go to the UK Government rather than to the devolved administrations, including those in currently devolved areas like agriculture and fishing
“Those plans would fundamentally undermine the basis of the existing devolution settlement, which has seen farming and fisheries devolved to Holyrood from day one.
“Those powers, as well as others in devolved policy areas, must be returned to the Scottish Parliament, not to Westminster.”
The First Minister added:
“Brexit throws up other vital issues for the rural sector in Scotland. For example, membership of the European Economic Area would guarantee free trade in most sectors of the economy. But it does not cover agriculture.
“That obviously matters a great deal to Scotland. For example, four-fifths of Scotland’s international exports of beef and lamb go to EU nations. But Quality Meat Scotland has highlighted that meat exports could be hit by tariffs of more than 50% unless we negotiate a tariff-free deal.
“These are issues we will continue to pursue – we know it’s hugely important to farmers, and
could have a direct impact on the prosperity and sustainability of rural communities throughout the country.”
A full copy of the speech is available at https://news.gov.scot/speeches-and-briefings