A senior member of the UK Cabinet has signalled that a seasonal workers scheme that has helped the soft fruit industry cope with labour shortages could be expanded in future.
Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, was responding to a question from Angus MP Kirstene Hair in the House of Commons today.
Scottish Conservative MP Ms Hair asked about the potential impact of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit scenario, stressing the importance of continued access to labour.
Ms Hair said “tens of thousands” of workers were needed to sustain the soft fruit industry.
She added: “So can my right honourable friend confirm that he recognises the importance of having a mechanism to be in place to ensure a smooth route for businesses to continue to function by having access to labour in a no deal situation?”
Mr Gove, who has been tasked with ensuring the UK is fully prepared for the eventuality of leaving the EU without a deal, said:
“Absolutely and I think it’s important that we look at the operation of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme and if necessary, expand the numbers available in the soft fruit industry for which my right honourable friend is such a powerful advocate.”
Speaking afterwards, Ms Hair said: “I have always maintained that we must leave the EU with a deal in place, so it is unfortunate that SNP MP's refuse to back any deal which is pushing us closer to a No Deal outcome.
“If we leave without a deal, then key industries such as soft fruit farming will require certainty over access to labour.
“I am pleased to hear that a senior member of the government is prepared to look at expanding the number of places in the seasonal workers scheme if necessary.
“I will continue to stand up for these important sectors of our economy, as I have done since my election.”