Brexit is leading a vital but unglamorous industry to its death

Picked apples from Stocks Farm which employs migrant workers to help harvest the fruit in Britain
Picked apples from Stocks Farm which employs migrant workers to help harvest the fruit in Britain
Image: Reuters/Eddie Keogh
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With Britain’s impending departure from the European Union in March 2019, there’s been a lot of focus on the threat to UK jobs in sectors such as finance. And while the impact Brexit has on professional services is a concern, uncertainty over the status of EU migrants is pushing aside a vital service industry.

Out of the 85,000 seasonal agricultural workers in the UK, 30,000 or so of them pick fruit (paywall). The UK government continually says it will opt out of allowing EU citizens to live and work in the UK without visa requirements, sparking huge concerns for staffing farms for harvest.

This week, one of the biggest growers of berries in the UK, Haygrove’s, said it is moving raspberry and blueberry growing to China because of the uncertainty over the status of migrant labor.

Brexit could signal the death knell for the industry by making it impossible to guarantee that farming companies will find enough people to work in a sector already facing major problems.

According to new survey data from the National Farmers Union (NFU), more than 4,300 vacancies went unfilled at fruit and vegetable farms across the UK last year. The UK government has pushed for years for more Brits to take these roles. However, in reality, UK citizens don’t want them—even if many farms pay more than the minimum wage (paywall). A recent documentary outlines how even  unemployed British workers didn’t want to take the farm jobs, because the work involves getting up too early in the cold.

By taking away the lifeline of the industry—migrant workers—Brexit likely will spell the end for a whole host of agricultural roles across the UK.