Suella Braverman has told farmers to end their reliance on workers from abroad and replace them with domestic staff and automation, as the home secretary seeks to cut net annual migration to the “tens of thousands”.
In a bruising few days for under-fire Liz Truss, the comments made by the home secretary appear to be a direct challenge to the prime minister’s pledge to expand the Seasonal Worker Scheme (SWS) to help ease agriculture’s labour woes.
Fruit and vegetable crops worth an estimated £60m have been wasted this year due to seasonal labour shortages, and other sectors such as dairy and pigs have struggled to recruit and retain staff.
A government-commissioned review of automation in the horticulture sector concluded that limitations to the capabilities of farm robots mean that improved access to migrant labour is needed for the foreseeable future.
But Ms Braverman told a Tory Party conference fringe meeting that the staff shortfall should be made up by domestic workers, the Guardian reported.
“I’m not persuaded that domestic workers don’t want to work as farmers,” Ms Braverman said.
East Midlands farmer and Farmers Weekly columnist Joe Stanley criticised the home secretary and said she was not being realistic.
Braverman needs to engage with the real world, not the nationalist bubble she exists in.
Brits wouldn’t do this work before 2020, they wouldn’t do it in 2020 & they won’t do it now.
This year £60m of fruit was left to rot & we imported more from 🇪🇺 to replace it. https://t.co/crAfaRzGwc
— Joe Stanley 🇺🇦 (@JoeWStanley) October 5, 2022
“Braverman needs to engage with the real world, not the nationalist bubble she exists in.
“Brits wouldn’t do this work before 2020, they wouldn’t do it in 2020 and they won’t do it now,” he said on Twitter
“This year, £60m of fruit was left to rot and we imported more from EU to replace it.”
This year, the government expanded the SWS to allow 30,000 temporary migrants to come to the UK for up to six months, with a reserve of a further 10,000 visas if necessary.
But the NFU and others say this figure falls far short of the 70,000-plus temporary workers that are needed in the UK each year to pick and pack ornamental and food crops.
NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board vice-chairman Derek Wilkinson has warned the government that the horticulture sector will contract further if it fails to expand the SWS and increase and extend the visa period for migrant workers from six to nine months.