Defra Secretary Michael Gove has suggested seasonal agricultural workers could be exempt from the Government’s target to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands.
In an interview with Sky News, he also confirmed the cabinet supports the idea of a transitional Brexit deal which allows freedom of movement to continue for several years.
Hardline Brexiteers such as Trade Secretary Liam Fox had previously been opposed to such an agreement, believing interim arrangements should last no longer than ‘a few months’, but the Government has now united behind the idea of a longer temporary deal – so long as it is limited in scope.
CLA president Ross Murray welcomed the news, saying: “Confirmation from Michael Gove that access to migrant labour can continue post-Brexit means farmers can plan for the future and invest in their business.
“His suggestion that seasonal workers may be exempt from the Government’s target to reduce net migration is welcome. Firming up this commitment will provide a degree of certainty that there will still be a flexible, skilled and secure rural workforce.
“We continue to promote to Government a scheme which allows workers from both EU and non-EU countries to enter the UK for a set period of time and for a specific job vital to the needs of the rural economy but with no right to remain afterwards. Such a scheme must be put in place immediately and not after the UK leaves the EU.”
Farming Minister George Eustice has previously admitted some agricultural sectors have had problems attracting workers.
“This is not an issue related to Brexit, it is an issue related to the fact it is quite hard work and the level of pay they are able to offer”, he added.
“We will be looking at all sorts of issues such as seasonal work permits, looking at what we can learn from the old seasonal agricultural workers scheme and looking to ensure we have in place the necessary provisions for the labour we need.”