Brexit: Leave voter realises his fruit farms could collapse without EU migrant workers – The Independent
Harry Hall, of the Hall Hunter Partnership soft fruit company, said he was in favour of Brexit because of the issue of sovereignty but was concerned by the Government’s approach to negotiations.
Mr Hall was speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme as industry body British Summer Fruits (BSF) claimed prices for strawberries and raspberries could “soar” by between 35 per cent and 50 per cent if Brexit restricted access to EU labour.
He said: “I regret my vote in the face of the Government I’m given.
“The reason I voted to leave was that I’m in favour of sovereignty. This was about sovereignty for me.
“As businessmen we need clarity about our future direction.
“If I don’t have my 2,500 staff that I need, or I have no certainty of that from 2019 onwards, I don’t have a business. It’s as simple as that.”
A worker at Hall Hunter Partnership’s Tuesley Farm in Godalming, Surrey, told Today it had had one English applicant in the last several years, but that they quit after one day.
The company farms more than 1,100 acres, including 43 acres of greenhouses.
In its Brexit White Paper earlier this year the Government admitted the UK Parliament “has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU”.
Prominent Leave campaigners had argued for Brexit on the basis the UK had lost its sovereignty to the EU over the years.
BSF said soft fruit production in the UK had grown by 131% over the last 20 years to a value of more than £1.2bn, largely as a result of an increase in home-grown strawberries.
It said Brexit was already exacerbating a shortage of seasonal labour and has warned MPs that losing access to European workers will have a “disastrous and cataclysmic” impact on the industry.
Around 95 per cent of the 29,000 seasonal workers each year currently come from the EU — primarily from Poland, Bulgaria and Romania — and demand is expected to rise to around 31,000 by 2020 if the industry continues to grow, the organisation said.
It has called for a seasonal agriculture permit scheme which would allow labourers from Europe to enter the UK on fixed-term contracts “to fill the jobs UK citizens shun”.
British Summer Fruits chairman Laurence Olins said: “It is inconceivable that people who voted to leave the European Union wanted to destroy an iconic and incredibly competitive British horticulture industry, and see the end of buying British produce.
“But if we cannot ensure access to the seasonal workers needed to produce soft fruit in Britain, that will be an unintended consequence of Brexit, along with soaring prices and increased reliance on imports.”
Additional reporting by agencies