Get more British workers on farms post-Brexit, says Leadsom

Engaging more young British people and reinstating a seasonal migrant worker scheme could be solutions to farming's labour needs post-Brexit, Defra secretary Andrea Leadsom told a meeting at the Conservative Party conference yesterday (2 October).

Image: DECC (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Image: DECC (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Challenged at a conference fringe event about the likely impact of immigration controls on the food and farming sector following Britain's departure from the EU, she said: "We could get British people doing those jobs and that tempts me to stray into the whole issue of why wages aren't higher and so on.

"My absolute hope is that with more apprenticeships, with more young people being encouraged to engage with countryside matters, that actually the concept of a career in food production is going to be much more appealing going forward."

She also pointed out: "Before we joined the EU we had a very good programme of seasonal workers' licences and it is not beyond the wit of man to have such a thing in future."

She also said of permanent employees of UK businesses from EU countries: "It is not Theresa May's intention to deport anyone unless our European colleagues announce their intention to do likewise. She is absolutely intending that those people who come here and do a great job in our food and farming sector [will] continue to do that."

And on EU environmental laws, Leadsom said: "There is a lot of EU legislation that over the last 40 years we would have undoubtedly have introduced ourselves.

"There are certain things that you would want to change and also potentially directives that you would change quite significantly but a lot of it I'm sure we would want to keep. It's obviously not the case that we will want to have a massive bonfire."

Earlier at the Birmingham conference, prime minister Theresa May appeared to put regaining control of UK immigration as a higher priority than access to the EU's single market.

"We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration again," she said. "It's not going to be a Norway model [or] a Switzerland model. We will decide for ourselves how we control immigration. And we will be free to pass our own laws."

She also affirmed that the formal process of the UK's withdrawal from the EU would be initiated before the end of next March.

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