Boris Johnson’s Conservative Government has noticeably hardened its rhetoric towards the EU as it seeks to rework the Brexit deal struck by his predecessor, Theresa May.
Priti Patel’s warning that she could end free movement of labour post October 31 could potentially be seen as part of that toughened stance as they look to front up to the EU.
The implications for agriculture of a reduced labour force have been well versed, but it is a theme which strikes at the heart of the Brexit paradox.
For many, and that will include some from rural areas, Brexit became a debate about immigration and what they felt was the need to end an ‘open door policy’ on movement.
Immigration became a toxic debate during the referendum and it continues to be a divisive issue even now. Without access to the right amount of willing workers, there will undeniably be parts of the agricultural supply chain, not to mention the many processors which rely on a foreign workforce, that will feel the pain of labour shortages.
The challenge with this part of the Brexit debate, as with so much of the rest of it, is that we simply do not know how it will pan out come October 31.
The current posturing of our politicians might prove worthwhile or it might end up hurting the country, but the word ‘might’ is the crucial clause within the debate. No one really knows.
And it is that uncertainty which is causing anxiety, and also fatigue, to dominate the mindset of many within the farming community.
With the farming unions staunchly opposed to Brexit but many farmers on the ground welcoming the chance to exit the EU, it feels at times as though the industry is going through some form of identity crisis.
Change is definitely heading the industry’s way, whether that is in relation to labour, future payments, or market access, and the next few months will be crucial in shaping what that change ends up resembling.