Brexit Puts Pressure on Science and Agriculture

Brexit Puts Pressure on Science and Agriculture

In the wake of last month’s Brexit referendum, many British academics warned that withdrawing from the EU could severely damage the UK’s robust scientific research community, both by limiting access to European funding and by making it more difficult to collaborate with scientists from the continent. Now, the community is confirming that Brexit is already affecting them, even before the actual process of leaving the union begins, CNBC reports:

Seven major science academies, including The Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences, have signed an open letter warning there have been immediate implications from Brexit and called for assurances from the U.K. government that academics from the EU will be allowed to stay and that funding for U.K. science will be maintained. “[The U.K.] a net beneficiary from EU research programmes” said the open letter, published earlier this week. “Urgent discussions are needed on how to address any funding gap in both the short and medium term.” … According to the open letter, 15 percent of academic staff at U.K. universities are from other EU states. In addition, the BBC reported that some U.K. firms had stopped receiving EU funds and U.K. academics were being left out of EU research projects.

Another sector already starting to feel the impact of Brexit is agriculture, where the National Farmer’s Union fears that uncertainty over changes in immigration laws will lead to a shortage of workers to pick this summer’s crops, according to the Guardian:

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) is seeking an urgent meeting with the Brexit minister, David Davis, to discuss special measures for migrant seasonal workers while the industry body British Summer Fruits (BSF) has warned that unless the government finds a way to keep migrants growers will sell up and move to France or elsewhere in the EU. The £1.2bn industry relies virtually 100% on workers from Europe because British workers “do not want to get up at 6am and work on their hands and knees all day”, said Laurence Olins, chairman of BSF.

“It would be a total disaster if British strawberries and other berries disappeared, but that is what is at stake,” Olins said.

Ali Capper, the NFU’s horticulture board chairwoman, has asked for an urgent meeting with Davis, to discuss a special visa system for foreign migrants working on farms. A shortage of migrant workers in 2007-08 resulted in crops being unharvested, jeopardising the businesses of suppliers to supermarkets, hotels and restaurants. … In a letter to Davis, Capper said labour shortages were an immediate challenge as there had been increasing difficulty recruiting British workers to farms, whether it was during the harvest season or for permanent positions.

In a report on British agriculture’s relationship with the EU issued in anticipation of the referendum, the NFU explained that the sector relies on tens of thousands of temporary workers from other countries each year, mostly from Europe, to perform the seasonal work of harvesting, packing, and processing produce. These positions are very difficult to fill within the UK labor market, because “the resident workforce has a preference for permanent employment.”