The UK government’s post-Brexit immigration changes have been criticized for ‘crippling the whole food industry’ during a session of parliamentary evidence.
Industry figures attended the UK Trade and Business Commission session, which focused on the cost of living crisis, food inflation and the government’s new food strategy.
The difficulty of gaining access to the UK government to discuss post-Brexit labor shortages was also raised, with witnesses saying it would be a “huge step forward” if such conversations could take place.
A witness, James Withers, chief executive of Food and Drink Scotland, said the labor market was in “turmoil” in Scotland.
He said it was essential to find a way to ‘unlock’ the Home Office for a conversation on these issues, adding that currently they ‘cannot come in’ to raise concerns about the shortcomings which of many sectors are facing.
Similarly, Phil Hambling, head of food and agriculture at the NFU, criticized the government for “throttling labor policy and limiting capacity”, citing this as the biggest problem affecting horticulture.
Witnesses also cited how Brexit had exacerbated these problems and had a ripple effect on the cost of living crisis, citing the weaker pound and the “tsunami” of bureaucracy as contributing factors.
Mr Hambling said: “The way we have dealt with labor policy since leaving the European Union has been absolutely crippling for the whole food industry.
“The main factor that constrains the growth of horticulture is access to people and labor. The industry’s ability not only to weather the storm as we see it now, but also to grow in the future depends on a labor policy that meets its needs.
Dr Geoff Mackey, UK trade and business commissioner and director of corporate affairs at BASF, said the evidence provided by industry was “clear”.
“The government’s inability to deal with post-Brexit changes to immigration and the labor market has an effect not only on the current cost of living crisis, but also on our long-term food security.
“Ministers must urgently meet with industry leaders to agree a long-term plan that will prevent acute labor shortages before they happen, rather than their current strategy of reactive band-aid .”
The UK Trade and Business Commission was launched in April 2021 to monitor the UK’s trade deals with Europe and the rest of the world.
It brings together ten deputies from all parties, as well as business leaders and expert economists.