Author: Simon Carswell
Post-Brexit immigration and labour policy must reflect Northern Ireland’s need for butchers and other skilled roles from across Europe for its agricultural workforce, a House of Commons committee recommends.
In a lengthy report on the impact of the UK’s exit from the EU on the agrifood sector, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee warns that businesses must be urgently told by the UK government how to prepare for a no-deal Brexit given their heavy reliance on cross-Border trade.
“Agrifood businesses in Northern Ireland urgently need to know what preparations they need to make for exit day, and so need clarity on what cross-Border trade will look like in a ‘no deal’ scenario,” the report says.
“The UK government must confirm for businesses in Northern Ireland how – if at all – trade with the Republic will different from trade with other EU member states so that the business which rely on this trade can prepare accordingly.”
The report also warns that the consequences of agricultural labour shortages in Northern Ireland are more significant than in other regions of the UK, given its reliance on foreign workers.
Almost half of all workers in the North’s agrifood sector are non-UK nationals from European Economic Area countries. Workers from these countries make up 91 per cent of seasonal workers.
The panel found no evidence that the UK government has recognised the “strategic importance” of the agricultural sector to Northern Ireland or its “unique difficulties” from the absence of a governing executive.
The report lays out in stark terms the risks from Brexit to Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector, which supported almost 25,000 farms and 48,000 jobs in 2017. It warns the North relies more heavily than any other part of the UK on the agricultural sector.
The report stresses the importance of maintaining near frictionless cross-Border trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic, given how the agrifood sectors in both are “closely integrated”.