Fergus Ewing speaking at the Royal Highland ShowTariff-free access to the EU single market is vital, says Fergus Ewing © Tim Scrivener

The Scottish government is on a collision course with Westminster over the prospects for agriculture once the UK leaves the EU.

Speaking at the Royal Highland Show on Thursday (22 June), Scottish rural cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing said retaining tariff-free access to the EU single market was crucial for Scottish farming.

His comments are at odds with prime minister Theresa May who insists the UK will leave the single market and the customs union when it leaves the EU.

See also: I will champion UK farmers, pledges Gove

Europe is an important market for Scottish red meat exports – and it was vital free access to that market remained post Brexit, he told a Quality Meat Scotland meeting at the event.

France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands took about 75% of Scottish beef and 87% of exported Scottish lamb, added Mr Ewing.

“This makes it highly important for Scotland to retain tariff-free access to the European single market,” he said.

“It is crucial for the long-term sustainability and growth in our rural economy.”

Modelling

Mr Ewing said the Scottish government was preparing to publish findings from economic modelling for a number of Brexit-related scenarios.

“I fully expect that when these results have published, the will confirm what the Scottish government has been saying to UK government ever since the EU referendum,” he said.

“Contrary to their rose-tinted rhetoric about Brexit, it is a major threat to Scottish farming – especially hill farming.”

In 2016, Scotland sold an estimated £62.2m of red meat and a further £6.7m of offal to customers outside the UK, giving a total red meat sales revenue of £73.9m.

“There should be a lot of positivity in the sector just now – given that current prices are high, with cattle up 12%, sheep up 20% and pigs up 35%,” said Mr Ewing.

Uncertainty

But the sector faced an uncertain future.

“As important as it is to keep looking to expand into new markets, we cannot give up on the biggest market on our doorstep,” he added.

“Following the outcome of the general election, the government must draw up a new plan for Brexit – the UK government no longer has a mandate to pursue a hard Brexit or leave the single market.”