Brexit secretary David Davis says that the UK will still need EU migrants and that it is not ‘plausible’ that British citizens would immediately take low-skilled jobs. He said that immigration restrictions would be phased in and that imposing immigration restrictions would be a ‘gradual process’. 

Davis stated that the UK is not going to “suddenly shut the door” on low-skilled EU migrants.

Speaking at a press conference in Riga, Latvia, Mr Davis said that Britain only wanted control over immigration and would only restrict the free movement of people when it was considered to be in the “national interest”.

He said that it was “not plausible that British citizens would immediately take jobs in the agriculture, social care and hospitality industry once the UK had left the EU and repeated comments made in Estonia on Monday that immigration restrictions would be phased in”.

He continued: “It will be a gradual process. That will take some time; yesterday I said it will take years. Don’t expect just because we’re changing who makes the decision on the policy, the door will suddenly shut: it won’t”.

Davis said that migrants had helped in making the UK a strong economy. “We’re a successful economy, largely or partly at least because we have clever people and talented people come to Britain,” he said. “Even on the wider area, where we’ve got less well-paid people who have come to live and work in Britain, it will take time.”

The government says that reducing net migration to below 100,000 a year remains its target.

Commenting on Davis’s comments, Iain Duncan Smith told The Times: “My sense is that it is going to happen quicker than that”.

Speaking at the NFU (National Farmers Union) conference in Birmingham, Chairman Meurig Raymond said that the UK will still need EU migrants and that farmers and food processors, particularly those involved in horticulture and poultry, were already having difficulty recruiting staff.

“The UK will be unable to produce sufficient food without employing tens of thousands of seasonal workers after Brexit takes effect.”

The drop in the pound has already reduced the value of the wages that seasonal workers send back to their home countries, and concern over longer-term UK residency rights are already affecting the flow of workers from Europe. High levels of employment in Eastern European countries, such as Romania and Bulgaria, are also reducing the supply of workers.

The NFU said that it desperately needed the government to help encourage workers from both the EU and outside the EU to come to the UK to help with jobs such as strawberry picking and processing chicken.

Mr Raymond said that the industry would need approximately 90,000 seasonal workers a year by 2021, and this figure doesn’t include the 250,000 permanent workers, more than three-quarters of whom already live here.

He continued, “Quite simply, without a workforce – permanent and seasonal – it wouldn’t matter what a new trade deal [with the EU] looks like. Food will rot in the fields and Britain will lose the ability to produce and process its own food”.

However, Andrea Leadsom, secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs, told farmers that they need to invest in machinery to increase production.

“We must not forget that a key motivating factor behind the vote to leave the EU was to control immigration,” she said. “As I’ve travelled the UK, I’ve seen a whole raft of new technologies that complement the workforce.” She added that there were “a large number of farmers that are yet to seize these opportunities”.

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