BRITISH agri-businesses will fail if the Home Office does not immediately address the huge shortfall in labour threatened by a 'no deal' Brexit.

The UK horticulture sector reacted with dismay to the new Home Secretary Priti Patel's announcement that a no-deal exit from the European Union would mean an instant cessation of freedom of movement on October 31, and the cancellation of the 'leave to remain' plan to offer migrant workers a smooth transition to whatever 'points-based' system the UK comes up with post-Brexit.

In a concerted effort to move the overseas labour issue up the chaotic political agenda, industry figures this week wrote to both retailers and the government to stress that they were not bluffing – without quick approval for tens of thousands more workers to come to the UK, crops would be lost, food would go unprocessed and some businesses would not survive the financial impact.

Writing to retailers on behalf of the sector, John Shropshire OBE, chairman of the huge G's Fresh horticulture business, said that the lack of certainty surrounding the UK’s immigration policy was 'making the running of our businesses, in the future, impossible', and called on the multiples to use their political clout to put pressure on the Home Office.

"The recent statements around the removal of free movement of labour will render G’s alone short of at least 1500 seasonal workers for next year’s harvest, even on the assumption that pre-settled status is honoured. As you are aware the crop planning and recruitment for 2020 starts now.

"As an industry we require 70,000 seasonal workers and therefore we have two essential requirements – immediate extension of the SWS Pilot Scheme to 70,000 work permits (EU and Non-EU) and to open to direct employers as well as labour providers; and the inclusion of harvest and packhouse workers on the shortage occupation list in a new immigration policy."

Writing to the Home Secretary, the English NFU's Ali Capper said that must be clear communication from government on immigration rights, translated into multiple languages, to ensure recruitment can continue," said the NFU.

"Your department must ensure that we have the 13,000 seasonal workers required for the Christmas poultry peak and the 10,000+ seasonal workers required for the Christmas vegetable sector," said Ms Capper.

"In 2020 the horticulture sector will require 70,000 seasonal workers to grow, pick and pack fruit, vegetables, plants and flowers – the recruitment of these workers starts in just one month’s time, at the end of September.

"Without access to labour from outside the UK these businesses will fail. Without seasonal labour there will be no British turkeys or seasonal vegetables on British plates this Christmas," she warned.

Scottish farm and agri-food businesses were this week asked to complete an NFU Scotland survey detailing their permanent and seasonal staff needs, to add weight to industry calls for an urgent expansion of the current trial seasonal workers scheme.

The union noted that governments, MPs, MSPs, the Migration Advisory Committee, researchers and others regularly questioned the scale of the seasonal worker supply problem – which was why it has now launched this survey to generate some hard facts upon which to press its case.

The short online survey should be completed – by Monday September 23 – by going to