A senior Tory MP has warned Brexit is “destroying” British agriculture – and condemned ministers for failing to act.
Neil Parish laid into Neil Foster, the immigration minister, for ignoring recommendations to make it easier to bring in EU butchers and other workers, leading to huge shortages.
The chair of the Commons environment committee warned that planting of vegetables was down by a quarter – and poultry production by 12.5 per cent – since Brexit.
“We are seeing our industry slowly being destroyed,” Parish told Foster, asking why the migration advisory committee’s recommendation was rejected.
“I thought Brexit was about encouraging production in this country, not discouraging it. This is down to labour shortages.”
Parish accused the minister of claims “it’s no problem, it wasn’t our problem”, saying: “It is, I’m sorry minister”.
But Foster replied that there was a “problem with uptake” and blamed employers for failing to sign up to a visa scheme to bring in workers.
Warnings of labour shortages on farms have raged for months, after Brexit made it more difficult for EU nationals to live and work in the UK.
‘Long-term solutions needed’
A coalition of industry groups has called on the government to fix the supply chain crisis to ensure food security in the UK.
Food and farming leaders warn the sector has been hit by shortages of workers from seasonal fruit pickers to abattoir staff and lorry drivers, alongside inflation which has driven up energy, feed and fertiliser prices.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) which has convened a summit of organisations to discuss food security on Tuesday, called for the government to make a serious commitment to at least keep Britain’s self sufficiency in food production at 60 per cent and create an environment to support businesses.
Organisations involved in the summit are also calling for action to solve labour shortages throughout the supply chain and ensure a level playing field between British produce and imports.
NFU president Minette Batters said: “Britain’s farmers are world-leaders in producing climate friendly food and, over the past 18 months, have been working hard to keep shelves and fridges full despite many being impacted by severe supply chain issues, particularly worker shortages.
“Government has tried to paper over the cracks with short-term fixes, but if we want to avoid this crisis continuing, long-term solutions are urgently needed to ensure a resilient supply chain that enables us to continue supplying everyone at home with fantastic produce, as well as leading on the global stage.”