Worker shortages in places like Angus will not be solved by the Stalinist “forced repatriation” proposed by a Tory MP, says the Brexit Secretary.
Michael Russell, the SNP MSP, said there are fruit farms in the area which rely on a 1,000-strong EU workforce and face a Brexit-inspired labour crisis.
He rejected a suggestion from Craig Mackinlay, the Conservative MP, for unemployed young people from Glasgow to make up the shortfall by heading to farms to work with “gorgeous EU women”.
Speaking at a fringe event at the SNP conference, Mr Russell said: “There are farms in Angus where there are a thousand EU nationals, who at certain stages of the year will be there to pick soft fruit.
“And that is labour that cannot be replaced.
“People will glibly say we’ll find unemployed young people to come and pick fruit.
“There was a Tory MP last week who was talking about unemployed young people in Glasgow who will go to Kent to pick fruit.
“That just simply won’t happen. We are not in an era of Stalin and the forced repatriation of people.
“You can’t move people from one place to another place and tell them they have to go. That is not going to happen.”
In a speech to delegates, Mr Russell called for the UK Government to fix the flagging EU negotiations by committing to stay in the European single market, permanently guarantee EU citizens rights and change the Repeal Bill to “remove the devolution power grab”.
Last week, East of Scotland Growers, a group of farmers based in Fife, warned the fresh produce industry would “regress catastrophically” if there is any restriction on EU worker movement after Brexit.
A UK Government spokesman said they place “great value” on the UK’s food and farming industries and they will get the “best deal” for them from Brexit.