The plans for migration control after Brexit set out in the draft government paper leaked yesterday would hit farming hard, particularly the field vegetable and horticulture sectors which are labour intensive and rely on seasonal labour from elsewhere in the EU.
Under the Government's plans low-skilled workers wanting to stay more than three months would have to register with the Home Office. The National Farmers Union claimed that the plans would cause 'massive disruption to the entire food chain'.
The Government seems to have disregarded the arguments put forward by farmers, claiming that the shortage of labour can be dealt with by recruiting from the local labour pool and new technology. In practical terms we are near full employment, particularly in areas where fruit and vegetables are grown, and those workers that are available often lack the aptitude to tackle the work on offer. As for a shortage of labour becoming a spur for new technology, there are limitations here, particularly in terms of easily damaged fruit. I will look at this issue in more detail in a subsequent post.
There is some evidence that even Brexit voters are relatively relaxed about seasonal workers coming in for a time limited period. If voters found that fruit and vegetables were more limited in supply and more expensive to buy, they might start to question the wisdom of the Government's approach. The issue could readily easily by dealt with by a new version of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme, although the fall in the value of sterling continues to make the UK a less attractive destination for seasonal workers.