Will UK agriculture collapse under the weight of Brexit?
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Will UK agriculture collapse under the weight of Brexit?

The head of Britain’s farming union has a strong message for Prime Minister Theresa May and her government: unless you can guarantee access to European workers, the UK’s agricultural sector will stop dead in its tracks. The call has come to secure a deal that will let workers from the continent continue to work in UK farms as talk abounds that the government will pursue a ‘hard Brexit’ – that is, the refusal to abide by the free movement of people that all countries must accept in exchange for access to the single market.

gb farm graph

Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers Union, spoke at a conference in Birmingham. She was keen to explain just how disastrous a ‘hard Brexit’ would be for Britain’s farming industry, which has come to rely on European labour, saying:

“Without a workforce –- permanent and seasonal -- it wouldn’t matter what a new trade deal looks like. The lights would go out in our biggest manufacturing sector, food will rot in the fields and Britain will lose the ability to produce and process its own food. That is not what a successful Brexit looks like.”

In 2015, 20% of the UK farming industry’s workforce was European – about 22,000 workers – according to a report from the UK’s farming development board. Unsurprisingly, farmers are lobbying the government to agree a deal that ensures they will still have access to this labour.

Speaking at the same conference, the UK’s environmental secretary, Andrea Leadsom, told listeners that the government was committed to guaranteeing rights to “all EU workers in Britain” – provided the EU is willing to return the favour.

She added:

"As for seasonal agricultural workers, I have heard loud and clear the vital role they play in many farm businesses. At the same time, we must not forget that a key factor behind the vote to leave the EU was to control immigration. Our plan is to seek an all-encompassing free-trade agreement. The EU is our most important trading partner, a fact that won’t change when we leave, and a relationship we will work hard to uphold.”

The opinions in this article do not reflect those of Dominion Fund Management Limited, and in the instance of any forward-looking statements, these should not be construed as advice.

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