Crisis in the unpicked fruit fields shows Brexit is rotten

Stephen Taylor, Managing Director of Winterwood Farms fruit farm in Maidstone, Kent, walks amongst b

Stephen Taylor, Managing Director of Winterwood Farms fruit farm in Maidstone, Kent, says he is struggling to fill positions for fruit pickers in the summer months with the number of seasonal workers applying down 90% - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Farmers in Kent and Fife say their soft fruit crops may go unpicked because of a lack of seasonal workers from the EU post-Brexit

It has been a gloomy week on the sunlit uplands of sovereign Britain - not only in Cornwall, where a just-married couple’s party was ruined when the guests complained about the sausages, but also in the fruit fields of Kent and Scotland.

In the lorry park of England (formerly known as the garden of England), Stephen Taylor of Winterwood Farms Ltd is worried about his soft fruit crops rotting away, as he claims applications for seasonal work have dropped by 90% over the last two years.

He said: “95% of all fruit and produce picked and packaged in this country is done by eastern Europeans. From the end of June, people who haven’t got pre-settled status, at least, can’t work.

“We are not talking about a few tens of thousands, we are talking hundreds of thousands of people less to work in the UK. That’s a massive hole.”

In Fife, soft fruit and veg farmer Iain Brown said Scotland was at real risk of falling 15% short of the 10,000 fruit pickers needed to bring in this summer’s crops, leaving strawberries and raspberries unpicked. “That is a genuine fear based on experience,” he said.

The absence of seasonal workers is yet another Brexit dividend, and though the panicked government has made available 30,000 temporary visas in an attempt to bring EU workers back to the fruit fields, the high cost has deterred many.

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Unless they already have settled or pre-settled status and are already living in the UK already, they need to pay £244 and demonstrate they have savings of at least £1,270 before even taking into account the cost of travelling to Scotland. Oh, and they can’t bring family members with them or access public funds. Tempting, isn’t it?

If they manage all that, they will arrive in Britain to find they cannot take a permanent job on the same farm if they get on well with their employer, cannot change jobs even if they fall out with their employer and cannot take on a second job.

Though a government spokesman said “employers should focus on training and investing in our domestic workforce rather than relying on labour from abroad”, Britons seem reluctant to sign up for work that involves long-distance travel to reach the fields, then physically demanding work in all weathers followed by camping once they finally get there. It all adds up to another Brexit disaster for farmers that was predicted from the start.

Still, at least there will be plenty of rotten fruit to throw if the prime minister ever visits...

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