Cabinet minister Michael Gove has refused to give figures on how many migrant workers could come to Angus and Perthshire’s fruit farms next summer.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the minister responsible for ensuring the UK is ready to leave – deal or no deal – Mr Gove said the Conservatives would do “whatever is needed” to support farmers but could not give a figure.
The government last summer came under heavy criticism from farmers and members of the cabinet for “inadequate” provision of labour for Scotland’s fruit farms through the seaonal workers scheme.
Original proposals allowed for only 2,500 workers to come to Scotland to pick fruit, which the NFU dubbed “not enough”, estimating some 80,000 workers would be closer to the country’s needs.
In an interview with The Courier on Sunday night, Mr Gove said: “The seasonal workers scheme was set up to attract workers from beyond the EU.
“This past year’s scheme was a pilot, to make sure the sector gets labour from wherever it can.
“We will make sure the farming and agricultural sector will have whatever it needs to grow.
“This would be put at risk with a Jeremy Corbyn government propped up by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. The uncertainty brought about by two referendums next year and the risk of a hard border in the event of independence would be potentially damaging on the lives of all Scots.”
When asked for specific numbers of seasonal workers who would be allowed to come to work in the agricultural sector after Brexit, Mr Gove replied “We will do whatever is needed.”
The de-facto deputy prime minister was in Angus to support Conservative candidate Kirstene Hair, while on route to further campaigning events in Gordon and Aberdeenshire.
Mr Gove advised against “tactical voting” for other parties in constituencies where the Conservatives were polling in third place, including in North East Fife.
In the event of a Jeremy Corbyn government, Mr Gove said he would not “leave the country” but those that did were making their “own decision”.