Farming groups have reacted with concern to Defra’s failure to include access to labour in its Brexit preparations.
As Farmers Guardian reported earlier this week, the department’s planning for EU exit takes the form of eight ‘workstreams’ on EU negotiations; trade; devolution; Repeal Bill; future agriculture and land use; fisheries; environment and animal and plant health. Labour does not get a mention.
NFU vice president Guy Smith said he was ‘surprised’ to see access to labour omitted given its implications for the competitiveness of agriculture, while the CLA urged Defra to carry out an assessment of labour needs for the sector and make the case to the Home Office for a seasonal agricultural workers scheme immediately.
CLA President Ross Murray added: “The rural economy is already struggling to meet labour needs, so I would encourage the Minister to include this as a vital extra workstream to Defra’s EU Exit Programme.
“The farming sector needs certainty that after Brexit there will still be a flexible, skilled and secure workforce to plan for the future in order to invest in their businesses.”
National Pig Association (NPA) policy officer Lizzie Wilson also said there were ‘robust arguments’ to include another workstream.
Zoe Davies, the NPA’s chief executive, has already expressed concern about the Home Office’s refusal to engage with the sector on access to labour.
Ms Wilson added: “All the sector’s needs should be recognised and reviewed. The Government seems to appreciate certain aspects such as seasonal labour, but does not understand the processing sector’s needs.
“At the end of the day, Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom keeps telling us that food and drink is already the UK’s largest manufacturing sector and one of her key priorities as we leave the EU is to see more British food grown, sold and consumed around the world.
“We cannot do that if we do not have access to labour.”