This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on the crisis in farming and the devastating long term impact if Brexit goes ahead in Scotland.
What a fine mess we find ourselves in during the COVID-19 pandemic that is sweeping the world. The sector that was already struggling before the virus hit us was farming. Due to the rise of English nationalism which was followed by Brexit and the unwelcoming attitudes of all Brexiteers to European nationals; we now fully understand the contributions to sectors like farming made by nationals from Romania and other eastern European nations. Citizens of these countries were doing the jobs British folk considered lowly and beneath them. Take into consideration that these jobs are mostly low paid and seasonal and also having to wake up at 4am! You get the picture why these jobs are not popular with the locals. Farmers faced the first wave of labour shortages soon after the EU referendum in 2016 and only got worse over the years until the final nail in the coffin was delivered by the people of England who voted overwhelming to elect a Conservative & Unionist government to get Brexit done. Where does that leave us now? Farmers are now complaining that they need over 70,000 seasonal workers this year from Britain to make up those workers who will not be coming or can’t come due to the hostile nature and immigration rules imposed by the Tories on the whole of the United Kingdom. Repeated pleas made by the Scottish government to have separate immigration rules for Scotland has fallen on deaf years by Boris Johnson and his government.
“Feed the Nation” was a major hiring drive initiated by the three main recruiters(HOPS, Concordia & Fruitful Jobs) in agriculture to attract locals to fill the jobs now left vacant during the coronavirus pandemic. It attracted more than 27,000 applicants but just over 4000 took up an offer for an interview. Other EU countries like Germany are allowing over 80,000 seasonal farm workers to come from Eastern Europe to help harvest crops during the peak season. All workers will have to be flown by air, undergo the necessary medical tests and follow social distancing guidelines while on the farms.
There is a simple solution to this problem! Why don’t all the Brexiteers now come forward to save queen and country? Brexit means Brexit! So please signup along with your family and friends who voted to leave the EU and save Britain once again; by getting off your backside and taking back control of your farms from EU/foreign workers. As this goes to print six charter flights have already landed in England bringing around 400 workers from Romania in the first of many flights in the coming weeks. Fruit and vegetable pickers will be specially flown in to meet demand and shortage of farm workers. 99 percent of seasonal agriculture jobs are filled by eastern Europeans, namely Romanians and Bulgarians according to the Office of National Statistics as reported in 2018.
Scotland is at a big disadvantage in this crisis as part of the United Kingdom as it has no powers to operate and do what it thinks is right for its farmers and citizens.
It will be an absolute scandal if crops are left to rot due to a shortage of farm workers and this will only make the current shortage of food worse, expensive and beyond the reach of normal citizens. Food poverty rates have already spiralled out of control during the lockdown and the battle to feed the nation would be lost due to political apathy and negligence. Brexit will just tip us over the edge.
It’s not too late to change course.
Published in the Peeblesshire News on 1st May 2020