Industry leaders have unanimously condemned the political uncertainty caused by Brexit.
MSPs were told how investment has been impacted and high-skilled workers are leaving Scotland or fearing for their future as business executives warned “a no-deal Brexit is not acceptable”.
Giving evidence at the Scottish Parliament, representatives from seven professions – ranging from farming and medicine to universities and freight transport – all said the uncertainty surrounding Brexit has had a negative impact on their sectors.
The industry bosses agreed Theresa May’s Brexit deal would not leave any of their sectors in a better position when asked during the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee on Thursday morning.
Asked about the impact of the Brexit process so far, Matt Lancashire from the Scottish Council for Development and Industry said: “Since the negotiations have started to take place on Article 50, there has been a negative impact across businesses in Scotland.
“There is deep concern about the negotiations, it has had a massive impact, has reduced investments, it has made talented people potentially leave the country.
“Business values stability, it values predictability. Many of the members we speak to, from oil and and gas to the financial service sector to the professional services sector, all bang that drum.
“What Article 50 negotiations have given us is a lack of that stability because it’s the unknown of what we’re stepping into in the next few months as well as years.”
The National Farmers’ Union Scotland’s Clare Slipper explained how the vote to leave the EU has exacerbated problems recruiting workers to pick fruit and vegetables.
Ms Slipper said: “What we have seen is that, due to the fall in the exchange rate, we’ve had quite serious issues with recruiting labour from the EU.
“This is a problem that we had prior to the referendum but it has certainly been a catalyst that has sped this up, particularly in seasonal labour for the soft fruit and field veg sectors, and that’s something we anticipate will continue at pace.
“The ongoing uncertainty around Brexit has been very damaging to the confidence of our members.”
Both the General Medical Council’s director of strategy and policy Paul Buckley and the director of Universities Scotland Alistair Sim stressed the importance of ensuring both doctors and academic staff could be easily recruited from EU countries.
Mr Buckley said: “There are some 20,000 doctors, around 6% of whom are EEA doctors, and they make an enormous contribution across the service but particularly in some parts of the remote and rural territorial boards.”
He urged the UK Government to maintain the deal, or a comparable arrangement, to avoid “having to put those doctors through the very laborious and time-consuming processes that apply to doctors from other parts of the world”.
Mr Sim said the risk of no-deal Brexit and the uncertainty over the future of European staff and students, including Erasmus programmes, “are hurtling towards us extremely quickly.”
He said: “The uncertainty is really the biggest problem.
“Our interaction with Europe is really important. If you look at our academic staff, 17% of them are from the EU and that mobility of talent and ideas is just essential to being a successful university and a huge part of our community.
“In general, the people who have made the commitment to come here and work at Scotland’s universities, although they’re nervous, at the moment they are staying.
“The real concern that becomes more and more pressing is: ‘What happens next?’
“The sooner we know what the future is going to look like and what our relationship with the EU is going to be and the closer that is, the better.”
Chris Yarsley, policy manager at the Freight Transport Association, said: “The uncertainty is causing a great deal of problems for our members.
“We have a declaration from the UK Government that the EU 27 nationals will be given the right to remain and work under a second status scheme, but the legislation is not there at the moment.
“We need that to be brought forward so we have the legal certainty rather than simply a statement of intent from ministers.
“A no-deal Brexit is not acceptable. There is no time left to put in place the legislative framework for us to keep moving on day one.”