In the light of the NHS IT crisis last weekend, it would be easy to assume that the UK is under greatest threat from ransomware and similar attacks, and indeed in the short term and in an acute way that may be the case. However if we were faced with a threat to deny us access to food including fresh fruit that could potentially be a threat in a different way. According to a newspaper report by Jay Rayner, published today in the Guardian, one British business that grows 10% of the UK’s strawberries, 19% of its raspberries and 42% of our blueberries is concerned that it may not be able to continue if our borders are sealed. The business relies on a seasonal workforce made up of 3,000 pickers from Bulgaria, Romania and other nations who come here each year to get the harvest in, and without whom the business would simply not exist. The business is not alone and all other British food businesses are affected to varying degrees.
This information should not be a surprise to MPs who may simply have been keeping the information close to their chests to avoid panic and to risk the Brexiteers getting upset that their plans will be shown up for what they are, which is a deep threat to our wellbeing. The truth is that on the day of the formal end of the the parliamentary session, marked by what is known as ‘prorogation’ a report was published called Feeding the nation: labour constraints. The report was drawn up by The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. The report provides five conclusions and recommendations which include the following:
“We do not share the confidence of the Government that the sector does not have a problem: on the contrary, evidence submitted to this inquiry suggests the current problem is in danger of becoming a crisis if urgent measures are not taken to fill the gaps in labour supply”
“It is apparent that the statistics used by the Government are unable to provide a proper indication of agriculture’s labour needs.”
“It is vital that the labour supply available to the agriculture and horticulture sectors does not suddenly dry up as a result of any uncertainty caused by the new immigration arrangements instituted following the UK’s exit from the EU.”
As Jay Rayner points out in his article, the risk is not just about what happens after we leave the EU, the current uncertainty is already placing at risk the stability of the existing businesses. However if we close our borders as so many Brexiteers are demanding, their celebrations with Champagne and Stawberries will be be a large addition to our trade deficit.