By Scottish Lib Dems farming spokesperson, Catriona Bhatia

"WITH OUR long track record of advocating membership of the European Union, people won’t be surprised that the Liberal Democrats were disappointed with the Conservative Government’s strategy on Brexit and the last-minute trade deal they reached.

The trade deal that the Conservatives have struck is bad for jobs, business, our environment and our way of life. It’s probably the first trade deal in the world that erects more trade barriers.

While the immediate prospect of food rotting in lorries has receded, it adds a whole host of red tape for any food producer looking to export their produce to the continent.

However, now that Brexit has happened it is important that we look ahead to the future and work out how to make the most of Scotland’s world class produce.

First of all, we have to ensure that our high agricultural standards are protected in future international trade deals in order to stop poor quality imports from undermining our farmers' commitment to animal welfare. The superb quality of Scottish farming produce is its key strength and must be promoted and supported, not diluted. For chlorine washed chicken and hormone-fed beef to flood on to our tables would be a harsh blow to farming businesses, many of whom have struggled through the pandemic.

The Liberal Democrats are also calling on the Government to institute a statutory duty for the new Trade and Agriculture Commission to report to Parliament on the agricultural and food impacts of every international trade agreement. There must be no shortcuts that leave British farmers at a disadvantage.

Secondly, we are calling on the Conservative and SNP Governments to maintain current farm payments until the new post-Brexit support scheme is rolled out in full.

Removing farm incomes before providing an equivalent replacement risks long term damage to British agriculture. We have already seen reports that farmers could lose half their money in the next four years, which threatens to drive thousands of family farmers – the backbone of agriculture – out of business.

With the impacts of climate change looming on the horizon, reforming farm payments in order to deliver environmental gains seems a sensible way forward. However, if farms have been forced to close due to the loss of current farm payments, then there will be no one left to restore our peat bogs, build natural flood protections or improve the quality of our waterways.

Thirdly, both UK and Scottish governments must work together to ensure that our farmers can access the seasonal workers they need. In the years since the Brexit vote we have already seen fewer seasonal workers coming to Scotland. This is making it more challenging for many farms to grow and thrive. The Government will need to urgently revisit the seasonal worker scheme and increase the number of staff available.

The fallout from Brexit will be felt across our farming communities. That’s why a sensible and thoughtful approach with input from those same communities at its heart will be needed more than ever. I am confident that the Scottish Liberal Democrats can play a big part in making that happen."