The rise of Ukip is having unexpected consequences for Britain’s countryside. Farmers fear that the political upstart’s success has the government running scared on immigration, with the result that foreign workers could soon be absent from Britain’s fields.
“We can see there’s a toxic mix brewing,” says Alastair Brooks, who employs 200 temporary foreign workers to pick strawberries and raspberries at Langdon Manor Farm in Faversham, Kent. “People have understandable concerns about immigration, but temporary migrant workers have got tied up in the debate,” he said.
Brooks has 130 acres of his farm devoted to fruit. Without foreign workers, he says, he will have to cut production. Many other farmers are in a similar position, says the National Farmers Union, because they fear that without foreign workers they will not have the staff to do the job.
It is not an idle concern. A shortage of foreign workers in 2007 and 2008 resulted in crops being left unharvested. Since then, the seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme (Saws), which supplies about a third of the sector’s temporary labour, has been open only to Romanians and Bulgarians. However, at the end of this year, both countries’ citizens will gain full access to the EU job market. There are concerns that many of the 21,500 on the Saws scheme – which was established after the iron curtain came down to help the families of Polish and Czech servicemen unable to return home – will look for permanent jobs rather than seasonal work.
However, Brooks questions whether many will even come to the UK once the restrictions are lifted, given that their countries are closer to a booming Germany mode