Less than half of Leave voters (48%) would like fewer non-UK EU national fruit pickers to work in the UK after Brexit, according to a report by think-tank British Future.
The report came after the National Farmers Union (NFU) claimed soft fruit and vegetable harvests would fail, and food prices would soar, after Brexit, if the UK loses access to EU seasonal workers.
Almost half of Leave voters (46%) would be happy to see the number of seasonal fruit pickers – originating from EU countries – working in the UK staying the same after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. Six per cent of Brexit voters wanted the number of EU fruit picking workers to increase. Almost three-quarters (73%) of Remain voters wanted the number of EU national fruit pickers to at least stay the same after Brexit.
‘Coming to the UK to work’
The report said: “One possible reason for this softening of attitudes to specific forms of low-skilled migration is that referring to people by a job title reassures respondents that people are coming to the UK to work.
“While people may feel more comfortable about rejecting an ‘unskilled migrant’, once that person is a waitress or a fruit picker – both rather thankless and low-paid jobs – members of the public are more sympathetic to someone who is coming to the UK to work hard in a job that others may not want to do.”
The report, which used survey data by polling analyst ICM, found that, in general, 86% of the UK public wanted high-skilled EU migration to stay at the same level as now, or increase, after Brexit.
The think-tank urged government to decide on a new, fit-for-purpose immigration system, that secured the support of the public and businesses. That included directing immigrants to geographical areas where the labour needs were greatest, for example, in public services or housing.
‘Critically short of workers’
Britain Future’s report – Time to get it right: Finding consensus on Britain’s future immigration policy – came after the NFU and trade body British Summer Fruits warned in June that a fall in staff left food producers critically short of workers.
The NFU wanted clarifications from the newly-appointed environment secretary Michael Gove on how farms will access a competent, reliable workforce post-Brexit.
About 1,500 farming vacancies went unfilled in May, after recruiters were unable to find sufficient numbers of workers to meet growers’ needs during the harvest season. The number of seasonal fruit pickers coming to the UK fell 17% between January and May this year.
Future Britain report on immigration after Brexit – at a glance
- 48% of Leave voters want fruit pickers to decrease
- 46% of Leave voters want fruit pickers to stay the same
- 6% of Leave voters want fruit pickers to increase
- 27% of Remain voters want fruit pickers to decrease
- 60% of Remain voters want fruit pickers to stay the same
- 13% of Remain voters want fruit pickers to increase