A sharp fall in net migration to its lowest level in three years is evidence of the harm Brexit is doing to the soft fruit industry, British Summer Fruits has said.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics on Thursday (24 August) showed that net migration had fallen by 81,000 to 246,000 in the 12 months to March 2017, driven by an increase of 33,000 people leaving the country.
Most of those leaving were EU citizens, with EU net migration estimated at 127,000 in the 12 months to March – down 51,000 on the previous year.
Recruitment surveys have shown this outflow of EU migrants has already affected the UK’s fresh produce industry, most notably in the soft fruit sector.
“The new figures released today on net migration are worrying evidence of the impact Brexit will have on EU nationals working in Britain,” said Laurence Olins, chairman of the British Summer Fruits trade body.
“For the soft fruit industry, this confirms our own recent data, which shows that in some areas up to 20 percent of seasonal workers are leaving our farms and returning home due to the uncertainly of Brexit and the fall of the pound against the euro.
“In addition, recent data that we have collected reveals that nearly 80 percent of our growers have experienced early leavers and nearly 50 percent of growers put this down to Brexit. Brexit is already having a negative impact on our industry.”
Olins called on the government to “work faster” to resolve the issue. “If we cannot ensure access to the seasonal workers needed to produce soft fruit in Britain, that will be an unintended consequence of Brexit — along with soaring prices and increased reliance on imports,” he said.
British Summer Fruits is pushing for the introduction of a Seasonal Workers Permit Scheme, which it says will need to be agreed by September 2018 if Britian leaves the Single Market to to allow businesses time to hire pickers.
“Failure to secure the future of soft fruit production in the UK will have a negative impact on the economy, family budgets, the nation’s health, UK food security and the environment,” Olins added.
“We are just one industry; these new net migration figures highlight a wider problem across the a number of industries. We need the government to work fast to find a solution to migration once we leave the EU.”