In Brussels to press Scotland’s case for continued membership of the European single market, Constitutional Relations Minister Michael Russell said the British government’s plan to end free movement for EU workers would sound a “death knell” for the Scottish economy.
Noting that over 60 percent of workers in Scottish slaughterhouses and 98 percent of their vets come from other EU countries, he concluded: “Enforced vegetarianism is the outcome there, because there just won’t be legal means of slaughter.”
Scots around the world are this week toasting their national poet Robert Burns with carnivorous feasts of steaming haggis: sheep’s stomach stuffed with offal, oats and pepper.
Russell told reporters the independence-minded devolved government in Edinburgh was expanding permanent missions in Brussels, Berlin, Paris and other European centres to help keep close to trading partners.
From world-leading university research teams to fruit farms, a loss of EU nationals would be damaging and Scotland would struggle to cope with its ageing population, he said.
Representing a nation that voted heavily to remain in the EU in the 2016 British referendum, the Scottish government is backing efforts in the London parliament to stop Prime Minister Theresa May taking Britain out of the bloc on March 29 without a deal to smooth the process and keep close free trade ties.
Russell said the Scottish National Party, in power in Scotland and the third largest in the British legislature, said May should delay withdrawal and hold a new referendum giving voters a choice between staying in the EU or leaving on terms she negotiated last month but which parliament has rejected.
After seeing preparations at the Belgian port of Zeebrugge for new controls on imports from Britain in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Russell said Scottish firms were preparing but such an outcome would be very disruptive.
The possibility of Britain simply keeping its ports and borders open after a hard Brexit was “an open invitation to smuggling and to illegality”, he said.
“I … don’t believe that can last a week.”
Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne