Last week, Rachael Maskell MP led Labour's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions as the Shadow Secretary of State.
Like many government departments, it seems DEFRA was woefully underprepared for a decision to leave the European Union, despite the enormous role that the EU plays in the UK's agricultural sector. Some 65% of agricultural workers are EU born and yet no plans have been made to ensure their security in the coming months and years.
As long as Britain is part of the EU, free movement is assured between all member states, this means our borders are open to any EU citizens who wish to work in the UK. The influx of EU workers every summer to work on farms around the country is vital to the industry, it is estimated that 60,000 seasonal workers are welcomed to the UK each summer. The decision to leave the European Union on the 23rd of June could leave tens of thousands of seasonal workers stranded in need of a work VISA. The terms of which DEFRA has not taken the first step towards deciding, instead choosing to shift responsibility to a future government.
Rachael Maskell MP, Shadow Secretary for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs says:
“DEFRA has planned cuts that will total a 57% reduction in real terms to the Department’s budget since 2010 and I am very concerned at the potential capacity the Department has to be able to negotiate the way forward.
“The UK food and farming sector provides over 3.9 million jobs and British farmers produce 62% of our food supply. Following the outcome of the EU referendum, it is now vital that the Government listens to British farmers, provides confirmation that trade relations with EU partners will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future and immediate assurance given to EU citizens currently working on British farms that they are allowed to live and work in the UK."
The exchange was recorded by Hansard as follows:
It is evident from the Secretary of State’s responses that her Department did not make contingency plans for a leave vote, failing in its duty to protect not only one of our major industries, but those who work in it. Will the Secretary of State confirm that all EU citizens working in farming can remain in the UK, which the vote on yesterday’s Opposition day motion called for, and that she has already made representations to Home Office?
It is absolutely clear that it is business as usual while we remain members of the EU and that those workers will continue to work in those areas. The reality is that I cannot make decisions for a future Prime Minister. That is the fundamental issue here and that is why my job over the coming months is to be a strong voice for farming and the environment in the overall negotiations.