AS further evidence emerges of the damage that Brexit will do to Scotland’s country areas, Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, has exclusively told The National of the “huge risks” that Brexit could bring throughout rural Scotland.

In the past few days, reports have emerged of Brexit’s likely damage to rural Scotland at either end of the country.

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At the Holyrood Economy Committee, in response to a question by Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, the chief executive of Highland and Islands Enterprise, Charlotte Wright, said Brexit was the “biggest challenge” facing the area.

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She said: “If you’re asking me what I see as the biggest challenge for the Highlands and Islands, it is without a shadow of a doubt the people equation.

“We already have significant challenges, across all sectors, in all parts of the Highlands and Islands, not really of skills but actually of people.”

Wright said half of the 1000 businesses on their panels were concerned about Brexit and fears were even higher “in sectors such as tourism and food and drink, which are very heavily reliant on migrant workers.”

Meanwhile Scottish Borders Council – in considering whether to promote the creation of a single public sector authority for the area – was told that Brexit could have a greater impact on the Borders than elsewhere.

A report to councillors stated: “The degree of reliance on agriculture and fishing, and the local economy’s dependence on tradable sectors within the region’s small towns is predicted to increase the Scottish Borders’ exposure to any negative consequences of Brexit.”

Ewing commented: “It is clear that Brexit poses huge risks for businesses, farmers and communities throughout rural Scotland.

“The UK Government’s approach to Brexit, and migration in particular, is harmful to Scotland’s interests.

“Their proposals completely ignore the workforce requirements of key sectors of our rural economy – such as tourism, agriculture and forestry. For example, our soft fruit and vegetable sectors alone requires up to 22,000 non-UK seasonal migrant workers.

“It is deeply concerning the UK Government are pursuing a migration scheme that would freeze out an estimated 75% of roles taken up by EU citizens in Scotland.

“We are calling for more a flexible approach to migration with more powers for Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament – something backed by a clear majority of Scottish opinion – to develop solutions that meet our needs.

“Increased trade barriers and customs delays could seriously harm the entire supply chain for our food and drink industry. That is why we have been clear that remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union, which is around eight times bigger than the UK market alone, is the best way to safeguard Scotland’s interests.

Ewing added the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill “rides roughshod over the devolved settlement and fails to deliver on their promise that Scottish farmers would continue to receive at least the same level of funding as they currently do after Brexit.”