‘It’s about taking control!’ Coffey slams Ferrari over farming probe ‘Failure of Brexit?’

Coffey shuts down Ferrari over farming probe

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Thérèse Coffey shut down LBC’s Nick Ferrari who was probing her on the efficacy of post-Brexit arrangements to solve labour shortages in the food and farming industry. A recent report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee found Covid and Brexit had a huge impact on the sector, with a staff labour shortage caused by stringent UK immigration rules for European Union citizens trying to come in. In 2021, the industry reported half a million vacancies – jobs that have since not been filled up by UK workers.

Nick Ferrari began by asking: “You referenced a couple of times that the UK has left the EU, which is absolutely right. Many people would say that’s one of the contributing factors to the problems that we have on some of our farms. They don’t have those workers coming in, digging up potatoes and picking strawberries and apples. 

“How true is that? And if so, has that been a failure of Brexit?” Mr Ferrari asked.

Thérèse Coffey defended: “Well, there is in place a season agricultural workers scheme.

Nick Ferrari cut her off, asking: “Why is not working?”

Ms Coffey fired back: “The point about leaving the European Union is about taking control of immigration.”

“So, one of the things that Liz is setting out is potentially an expansion of that but also a little bit more time in order to try and design a scheme with the farming industry and what works well,” Mr Coffey said.

“So, for example, some people need to come in for quite a short amount of time on chicken plucking and turkey plucking.

“That wasn’t initially in the proposals. They’ve been added more recently. But as we’re making sure, we have a flexible scheme.

“And again, having that control about immigration. But nevertheless, whether it’s about trade deals around the world – the Australian-New Zealand trade deal – this is the sort of thing where Liz in negotiating that basically gave Australia and New Zealand the same access as the European Union does to UK markets.

“So, it’s about making sure that we can export a lot more easily as well as some of the produce, in particular, that only Australia, New Zealand produce can come into our country more readily as well.”

“So, it’s a combination of both inward investment, exports but genuinely about supporting British agricultural production”, Ms Coffey said.

The labour shortages mean tonnes of food unpicked on British farms, costing millions of pounds and pushing food inflation as high as 20 percent at the farm gate, farmers told Sky News.

The reduced number of seasonal workers is caused by the shortfall in the overall number of season worker visas granted by the Home Office and delays in processing visas.

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As a result, some farms are going bankrupt, Nick Marston, chair of the industry group British Berry Growers, said.

“It will be more not less as a direct consequence of the restricted supply of labour, as a direct consequence of government policy on immigration,” he told the Financial Times.

Foreign workers have criticised the UK farm labour scheme, citing unacceptable welfare conditions such as lack of health and safety equipment, racism, and accommodation without any bathrooms, running water or kitchens, a government review finds.

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