EDINBURGH (Reuters) – Scotland will step up efforts to persuade EU citizens to stay after Brexit, its First Minister will tell French lawmakers on Tuesday, amid concerns about potential workforce shortages in the largest of the United Kingdom’s three smaller nations.
Nicola Sturgeon, who supports Scottish independence from the United Kingdom, will tell French lawmakers that Britain’s proposals for its exit from the European Union and limitations on freedom of movement will damage Scotland’s economy more than Britain as a whole.
Small business and tourism associations have warned of labour shortages already occurring for remote, low-paid work such as food processing and hospitality which are key to Scottish economic success and depend heavily on EU workers.
Political tension has increased between Sturgeon’s devolved government, which opposes Brexit, and Britain’s divided Conservative government struggling to deliver Brexit by March 29.
Unhappiness over Brexit within Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party is also pressurising her to reignite a push for independence as the impending break with the EU pushes British politics to its limits.
“Without freedom of movement there is a danger that our population will start to decline. We could face workforce shortages in rural areas, in our universities, in our care and health services,” Sturgeon will tell the French National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee, which she has been invited to address.
“The UK government is proclaiming the end of free movement as a victory – instead, it is a self-defeating measure,” she will say.
Differences over Brexit have strained relations between the United Kingdom’s four nations. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU in a 2016 referendum, while Wales and England vote to leave.
The desire to limit the number of EU citizens coming to Britain was a major reason Britons voted for Brexit in 2016. Immigration is one of the most heated political issues in the Brexit debate even though there are some parts of Britain with labour shortages.
Net migration of EU citizens to Britain fell to its lowest level in nearly six years during the year to June, extending a decline seen since the 2016 Brexit vote.
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Scotland’s population is ageing more quickly than the United Kingdom as a whole and its economy has been shored up by EU migrants in recent years, studies show.
A Scottish government official declined to detail what the intensified effort to keep EU citizens would entail. London has argued that Scotland does not need a differentiated migration system.
Scotland last year announced measures to support EU citizens, such as waiving a registration fee for a post-Brexit immigration system, funding a citizens’ rights service to provide information and raise awareness of the issue and paying tuition fees for EU students at Scottish universities.