- Matt Cardy/Getty Images
- Chief executive of England’s largest winemaker issues stark warning.
- Chapel Down supplies Downing Street with wine.
- Farms are suffering from a shortfall of European seasonal workers since the Brexit vote.
LONDON – Britain will “starve” if foreign fruit pickers from the EU are not allowed to work in the UK after Brexit, the chief executive of an official wine supplier to Downing Street has said.
Frazer Thompson, the chief executive of Chapel Down, England’s largest winemaker, said that his company relies on EU workers to pick grapes in its vineyards.
Thompson said: “The biggest potential impact of Brexit is on agricultural labour. Kent has had eastern Europeans picking fruit in recent years, but we’ll all starve if the labour issue is not sorted after Brexit.”
The comments will cause embarrassment for Theresa May as No 10 uses Chapel Down wines, and has not yet been forthcoming on a deal for EU citizens post-Brexit.
Fruit has been left to rot in farms across Britain due to issues with recruiting pickers from Europe. It has affected farms in Kent, Scotland and Hertfordshire, the Guardian reported.
The National Farmers Union published data in June that showed the number of seasonal workers coming to Britain dropped by 17% in 2017, leaving some businesses critically short of workers.
At the time the NFU’s horticulture and potatoes board chairman Ali Capper said: “A lack of clarity regarding the UK’s future relationship with the EU and a weakened sterling has contributed to the reduction in workers on farms now being reported by labour providers who source seasonal workers.”
The prime minister has repeatedly stated that it is her aim to see net migration fall to the “tens of thousands,” despite warnings that this would wreck the UK economy which has become reliant on migrant labour.
Thompson said: “We want a resolution to allow us to have freedom of movement for labour to pick the fruit. This is something that affects all fruit farmers across the south-east of England.
“I’m hoping it will be sorted out and I hope they won’t close the doors, as if there’s no one to pick the fruit, we’ll have to import everything.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We remain committed to bringing down net migration to sustainable levels. After we leave the EU we will put in place an immigration system which works in the best interests of the whole of the UK. Crucial to the development of this new immigration system will be the views from a range of businesses, including those in agriculture and the food and drink industries.
“We have also asked the migration advisory committee to assess the economic and social impact of EU citizens in the UK. We are carefully considering the options for the future immigration system and will set out our plans shortly.
“We have already been clear there will be an implementation period after we leave the EU to avoid a cliff edge for businesses and that EU citizens already working in the UK will be able to apply for settled status so they can stay.”