Gove meets Scottish industry leaders amid mounting tension

The meetings focused on the opportunities and challenges facing Scottish farmers as the UK prepares to leave the EU
The meetings focused on the opportunities and challenges facing Scottish farmers as the UK prepares to leave the EU

Defra Secretary Michael Gove has visited Aberdeen to discuss the future of the farming industry outside the EU amid Holyrood tension with Westminster.

Representatives from across the Scottish farming industry attended the meetings with Mr Gove at Aberdeen’s James Hutton Institute, a hub for environmental and farming innovation.

The meetings focused on the specific opportunities and challenges facing Scottish farmers as the UK prepares to leave the EU.

It comes as news as Scottish Rural Secretary Fergus Ewing writes a letter to UK government to seek more detail on future funding arrangements for the farming industry post-Brexit, calling future planning "virtually impossible".

He also said there is a lack of clarity surrounding the Conservative Party's commitment to match existing levels of farm support until 2022.

Amid the tensions, the meetings in Aberdeen focused on how Scotland’s farmers can make the best use of innovation and new technology to boost productivity.

Speaking after the meetings, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: "Aberdeen is a city extremely close to my heart and one with proud traditions in both farming and fishing. Both industries are part of the fabric of daily life for so many people in the North East, but they are also vitally important for the local and national economies, together contributing over £10 billion. I’m determined to see them go from strength to strength outside the EU.

"Today’s discussions were very productive and helpful as we take forward this once in a lifetime opportunity to design a new approach that can deliver a brighter future for Scottish farmers and fishermen.

"There are undoubtedly challenges ahead, but if we work together I believe there can be great rewards. I’m committed to working with the Scottish farming and fishing industries to make sure we secure a smooth transition and grasp the opportunities that leaving the EU presents."

'Equal partners'

The meetings come as recent criticism surfaced of Mr Gove over his appearance at farming shows, after apparently snubbing other farm business events to do with Scottish agriculture.

The Scottish government previously said the Defra secretary should be taking the concerns of Scotland's agriculture sector seriously.

Scotland's Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “We have been very clear throughout this process that the devolved administrations must be considered equal partners in the negotiations and we expect genuine engagement in the process.

“It is simply unacceptable to have UK Ministers unilaterally cancelling meetings, which involve four partners at short notice and without consultation.”

“Brexit affects us all, with Scottish agriculture and rural communities particularly reliant on the EU for investment, labour and financial support. I also want to be clear that the UK Government must not give away permanent access to Scottish waters as part of any trade deals.”

Mr Gove said the two meetings were "unavoidably" rescheduled because one clashed with the week of Queen’s speech, the other coincided with July’s EU Ag & Fish Council.