MP urges Government to trial new seasonal worker permit scheme

A Kent MP has called on the Government to trial a new seasonal workers permit scheme to meet growers' labour needs in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Conservative MP for Faversham & Mid Kent Helen Whately
Conservative MP for Faversham & Mid Kent Helen Whately

Conservative MP for Faversham & Mid Kent Helen Whately, who chairs the recently formed All-Party Parliamentary Group for Fruit & Vegetable Farming, said during a debate that she called on the subject on 30 November that Brexit and the fall in the value of the pound mean that employers in horticulture will struggle to fill some 80,000 seasonal positions next season.

She said one local farmer told her that crops could go unpicked next year, pushing up the cost of British fruit. "That will happen just at the point when we want to improve our balance of trade. Fruit is a sector where I would argue we are among the best - and perhaps are the best - in the world."

Responding, immigration minister Robert Goodwill said: "I understand the position of the farming community and I absolutely appreciate the importance of food and farming industries as a crucial component of the UK economy and of the fabric of rural Britain," adding that the Government "would give careful consideration to the needs of the agricultural sector" in negotiations with the EU.

Whately said afterwards: "MPs from across the country contributed to the debate, which shows just how important this issue is. I'm pleased that the minister said he'd reflect carefully on the points raised. I will be following up with him and also Defra ministers to make sure that there's a plan in time for next year's fruit-picking season."


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