It’s been months since the EU referendum and the Tories still haven’t explained what Brexit means and what the impact will be on our rural economy.
Our rural businesses require certainty on vital EU funding and tariff-free trade. The inability, or unwillingness, of the Tory government to give this certainty is simply not good enough.
In contrast, the SNP is clear that the best way to protect our rural interests is by protecting Scotland’s place in Europe, maintaining membership of the single market and access to the free movement of labour.
Will farmers continue to benefit from the funding they currently receive?
The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy – “CAP” for short – provides a system of support for farmers in Scotland. CAP is split into two Pillars. Pillar 1 covers direct payments and is worth about €3.7 billion between 2014 and 2020. Pillar 2 covers sustainable economic growth in rural areas and is available to a much wider range of businesses and organisations. Pillar 2 funding is expected to be €840 million by 2020.
The Treasury has announced that Pillar 1 funding will be guaranteed only up until 2020. Only Pillar 2 funding with contracts in place by the UK Autumn Budget Statement will be guaranteed. This means vital EU funding, worth hundreds of millions to Scotland’s rural economy, might be lost.
The Tory Rural Affairs Secretary has called for an end to direct support for farmers. Andrea Leadsom said in 2007, in relation to CAP, that “subsidies must be abolished.”
What will Brexit mean for Scotland’s fishing sector?
Much of the impact on the fishing sector will depend on the approach taken by the UK Government, which we know has a long track record of unfairness to the industry. It was a Tory government that described our fishing industry as “expendable” when negotiating entry to the European Community in the 70s.
The European and Maritime Fisheries Fund – or the EMFF – is an EU funding programme open to fishermen, processors, fishing communities and Scotland’s aquaculture sector. For those European Maritime Fisheries projects beginning after the UK government’s Autumn Statement, no guarantees have been provided by the Tory Treasury.
What does membership of the single market mean to the rural economy?
By maintaining membership of and access to the single market, our businesses can reach a market of 500 million people. Being in the single market means there are few barriers to trade and no tariffs for exporting goods to Europe.
This access is vital for our food and drink sector. To take just one example, the EU represents the largest food export market for Scottish fish and seafood, representing £438 million – or 62 per cent of the value of total food exports.
The Tory government has been completely unable to give a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer on whether the UK will continue in the EU single market.
What does ‘freedom of movement’ mean for the rural economy?
We value the contribution of people from across Europe who have chosen to make Scotland their home. For rural Scotland, the right of people from other EU countries to live and work in Scotland is an economic necessity.
Free movement of people to Scotland currently supports 25,000 full time equivalent forestry jobs, 15,000 in agriculture, 30,000 in food and drink and a significant number on our fishing fleet and in tourism.
Despite the importance of free movement – for our economy and society – Theresa May has refused to give any guarantee that visa-free travel across Europe will be protected.