A Government plan to end freedom of movement overnight on October 31 would hit pickers and packers of the UK’s fresh fruit and vegetables particularly hard, the NFU has said.
According to reports in several weekend newspapers, the new Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is pushing for border restrictions to be imposed on Brexit day, despite the fact no replacement system is ready to roll out.
In order to avoid any new immigration legislation being hijacked by pro-remain MPs, Ministers are said to be planning to introduce the new controls through a statutory instrument, which requires less scrutiny.
Officials are believed to have warned the plan could cause chaos at the border, with no way to tell whether EU citizens are entering the UK for a holiday, returning from a break, or arriving for work.
NFU horticulture board chairman Ali Capper has also raised concerns, telling Farmers Guardian the timing of October 31 would hit pickers and packers of fruit and vegetables, whose primary concern since the vote to leave the EU has always been getting stuck at the border.
“We are trying to recruit at the moment for people to arrive next week and the week after,” she said.
“The people who are planning to come for the end of August for the apple season may well be planning to stay into early November. This kind of news is going to put them off.
“Then there would be an issue with people coming to an end with the soft fruit season who want to go home for a month and come back.
“And there will certainly be people coming to do permanent roles in pack houses in the winter who will be very concerned.”
The news came shortly after a report from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a think tank co-founded by Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, called for a bar on immigrants entering the country who earn less than £36,700 after Brexit.
Under the proposals, an exemption could be made where the occupation was deemed to be of ‘strategic importance’.
NPA senior policy adviser Ed Barker said he was ‘extremely concerned’ by the plan.
“The idea of an arbitrary salary set at £36,700 would completely halt the flow of permanent labour and leave all parts of the pork supply chain drastically short of personnel,” he added.
“We are aware it may be possible to not have to meet this threshold if a job role qualifies as strategically important, and we can think of few roles as strategically important to the country as those which help the nation feed itself.”