BRITAIN faces food shortages unless the UK Government’s Brexit plan lets Eastern Europeans travel freely to work on farms, Scottish producers have warned.
Senior figures in the soft fruits and meat industries said the kind of immigration clampdown reported to be in ministers’ minds as the country quits the EU would keep out people crucial to meeting supermarkets’ demand for the food on our plates.
The number of migrant workers picking strawberries and rasps has already dropped by 10%, company bosses have said.
James Porter, from Angus Soft Fruits, which accounts for 60% of Scottish soft-fruit production, said: “Unless we have free movement, there will be issues and shortages because anything less than that is not going to be as good as what we have now.
“Every piece of fruit and veg you pick up in the supermarket has been picked by someone from Eastern Europe. If you take that away, it is a big food sector issue.”
He has previously told Holyrood’s economy committee that companies may move abroad if they were unable to recruit from the EU as there are not enough local workers to carry out the tasks.
Neil McCorkindale, chairman of the Scottish Beef Association, said 60% of people working in the abattoir sector, crucial to ensuring meat is of a high standard, are migrants.
Asked if there would be a shortage of meat on the shelves if immigration was curbed, he added: “I wouldn’t want to overplay it but there would bound to be an immediate impact.”
SNP Brexit spokesman Stephen Gethins said: “These reports are deeply worrying for the businesses and their employees.
“These are thriving concerns and for them to be facing these difficulties because of a mindless Tory approach to leaving the EU is unbelievable.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “The Government places great value on the food and farming industries.
“Until we have left the EU, the UK will remain a member with all of the rights and obligations that membership entails, and employers in the agricultural and food processing sectors are free to continue to recruit EU workers to meet their labour needs.
“Labour market statistics show in the period to March 2017 there were 171,000 more EU workers in the UK workforce than the year before.
“We are determined to get the best deal for the UK in our negotiations to leave the EU, not least for our world-leading food and farming industry.”