Yesterday, two Government Ministers appeared to publicly disagree about the need for a seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme within hours of each other.
In the morning, Brexit Secretary David Davis told a group of MPs he had been making it clear for several months he did not want to ‘slam the door shut’ on foreign workers when the UK leaves the EU.
He said: “It is plain to me we have to run our policy to meet all our economic interests. This applies not just to scientists and bankers, it also applies to seasonal workers in agriculture and so on.
“The aim of the Government, as the Prime Minister has made plain, is to bring down the net migration numbers, but it will not be done in a way which damages the economy.”
Mr Davis was also forced to concede UK dairy and meat producers could face tariffs of between 30 and 40 per cent if no Brexit trade deal could be reached with the EU because of the ‘protectionist nature of the CAP’, but said he would be trying to avoid such a situation.
Just a few hours later, Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill was accused of ‘complacency’ after he said the NFU’s concerns about food rotting in the fields due to a lack of workers were ‘a little bit of a scare story’.
Reiterating previous comments that the most recent labour market statistics do not show a shortfall in workers from Bulgaria and Romania, he told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee: “We do not believe there is sufficient evidence to justify a seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme in 2017.
“We will keep this under review, and of course, as long as we remain members of the EU, so for the next two years, we will have freedom of movement.”
Under pressure from committee chair Neil Parish, who said a new seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme would be needed, Mr Goodwill revealed it would take the Government six months to introduce one.