Farming Minister George Eustice floundered on the issue of migrant labour when challenged to provide some assurances to the sector by grower Ali Capper at NFU conference.
Ms Capper told the Minister certainty was needed now as next year growers would begin recruiting for the 2019 season, when the UK would already have left the EU.
Mr Eustice responded by saying he did not have any immediate answers, but claimed they were not necessary at the moment as businesses could continue to recruit from countries such as Bulgaria and Romania up until the point of Brexit.
When pressed further by Ms Capper, who explained the recruitment process through the old Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme took nine months, Mr Eustice said: “Once we leave the EU, we are free to do whatever we want as quickly as we like. We will ensure we have a controlled immigration policy. If we leave the EU, we can make decisions more quickly.”
His answer did little to reassure the NFU’s Brexit chief Nick von Westenholz, who tweeted:
Is govt policy clear on farming’s labour needs? Eustice says we have until 2020 to sort. But what about lead-in time for recruitment? #NFU17— Nick von Westenholz (@nvonwestenholz)
The news will add to growing concerns about how seriously the Government is taking the issue of labour following revelations it was not listed in Defra’s eight Brexit ‘workstreams’ alongside trade; devolution; the Repeal Bill; future agriculture and land use; fisheries; the environment and animal and plant health.