Scottish business leaders are speaking out in ever stronger terms as they count the cost of a hard Brexit Scotland didn’t vote for. In one example, the President of the National Farmers Union of Scotland told their annual conference last week that the post-Brexit chaos could “write off” the Scottish farming industry.
A senior Bank of England official said the UK has lost £29 billion in business investment because we left the EU. If Scotland lost just a population share, that would be £2.5bn – but it may be even worse. Scotland exports double per head the UK average and rural Scotland in particular is staggering from the loss of its seasonal summer workforce – and that in turn is likely to impact investor confidence.
“We still cannot ship to France at all – crazy”
Greg Dillon, co-founder of GreatDrams.com, told the Scotsman last month:
“GreatDrams.com had a thriving European business with great repeat customers and ambitions to grow. That all changed on Jan 1 2021. Now it is harder to send a bottle of whisky to Dublin or Germany than it is to America or China. And we still cannot ship to France at all – crazy.”
Whisky tourists from the EU can take home just one bottle
Mike Lord, owner of the Whisky Shop Dufftown, Speyside, on what should be the thriving Malt Whisky Trail said:
“My business relies very heavily on whisky tourism particularly from the EU. These EU customers can now take home, in effect, one bottle of whisky per person. This has a huge impact.”
He gave the example of a whisky tour group from the EU who used to visit his shop once a year. “The last time between the five of them they took over 100 bottles of whisky back with them.” His online business is also suffering and the future looks bleak:
“The extra costs and complexities for customers in the EU means it’s no longer viable to buy from a UK business like mine. ”
Iain Allan from distillery Glen Moray agreed:
“Whisky clubs who’d come to us and the Speyside area used to be able to pick up multiple bottles of whisky. Now, they have to be aware that they’ve got an allocation that they can take back. So you almost have this collection of distilleries competing for space in people’s suitcases.”
Scottish fish producers losing out on quotas, exports, and workers
Mike Park, the chief executive of the Fraserburgh-based Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association, told the Press and Journal on the third anniversary of Brexit last month that it has delivered nothing positive.
Parts of the industry relied on Eastern European workers. Another problem is fishing quotas. Before Brexit, the EU would set how much of each species of fish each member country could take from the water in a year. If one country fell short of its quotas, the deficit could be transferred to another country. This is something the UK can no longer do because it is no longer part of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy. Mike said:
“We struggled to get more quotas in year one and that caused a real problem for us. It is costing more and taking longer to get fish into the continent and there are a lot of paper trails required and red tape.”
The UK government’s trade deals “could write off” Scottish farming
Scottish food producers and farmers have been disproportionately hit by Brexit. Scottish farmers feel betrayed by deals the UK has struck with Australia and New Zealand which give their much bigger, intensive meat farmers freer and eventually completely open access to the UK. Opening the National Farmers Union Scotland in Glasgow last week, President Martin Kennedy said the UK government:
“buckled to get a trade deal over the line as quickly as possible to make Brexit look like a walk in the park.”
He said Australian methods and costs of production are on a completely different scale. Martin accepted that each trade deal alone may not spell disaster for farming – but when combined together he said they could ‘write off our industry’. He cited egg powder from India and hormone-fed beef from Canada as other dangers to Scottish farming.
Scottish seed potatoes can’t be exported to the EU anymore and Scottish growers have lost out to Ireland; Scottish soft fruit producers have been forced to reduce their crop size because of a lack of seasonal workers. Leaving the Common Agricultural Policy means the UK government is providing much less support for food production and through Barnett Consequentials, that affects the Scottish budget.
One-way border checks distort the market
Farmers are also angry about the one-way border checks the UK has put in place with the EU. The UK has repeatedly postponed many of the post-Brexit import controls which are leading to the UK developing a huge trade imbalance. The government is now trialing a new approach to the controls called the “target operating model” which may be introduced in the next few months.
The chair of the pig committee for the National Farmers Union of Scotland, Jamie Wyllie said last month:
“The longer there is no system in place, the greater the distortion of the market for UK producers – and the longer our borders are left unprotected against the introduction of livestock diseases, such as African Swine Fever” (which has been found in Germany).
Each month brings a new layer of bureaucracy
Peter Crawford, owner of start-up Sip Champagne based in Fife, said:
“It’s hard to overstate how challenging Brexit has proven to be. Costs for every element from customs to transport to the products themselves continue to rise and it seems like not a month goes by when there is not a new layer of bureaucratic complexity to navigate.”
“Dissatisfaction” with the quality of service in Scottish hospitality businesses
Rebecca Brooks, managing director of Abbey Travel, told The Herald at the end of the summer season last year that a lack of European seasonal workers results in its partners in the tourism supply chain, such as hotels, restaurants and experience providers, “not having enough staff, not having properly trained staff, not being able to deliver the standard of service”
“There is a dissatisfaction among some of our markets in terms of the standard in Scotland… It is a real challenge. We know that it is a combination, unpalatable as it may be to some areas of government, of the impact of Brexit, with an exodus of EU workforce and the difficulty of bringing an EU workforce in, and the recovery from the pandemic.”
Independence offers a more positive future
Brexit is a disaster for Scotland. There are many other affected sectors not mentioned above – for example, Scotland has lost access to investment from the world’s biggest science fund, Horizon, and arts fund Creative Europe, which put money into film and other arts, and grants for peripheral rural areas such as the Highlands and Islands.
Despite this, the Labour Party joins with the Conservatives in defending Brexit. The only way for Scotland to rejoin the EU single market and begin to thrive as a country is to become independent.