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Frazer Thompson of Chapel Down Winery in Brexit warning over foreign labour shortage

By Rachael Woods

People will "starve" if a Brexit deal is not agreed to allow free movement of labour for foreign fruit pickers.

The stark warning has been issued by Frazer Thompson, chief executive of Chapel Down, the Tenterden winemaker.

The winery, the official wine supplier to 10 Downing Street, relies on EU workers to pick its grapes.

Chapel Down chief executive Frazer Thompson

Chapel Down chief executive Frazer Thompson

Chapel Down announced in November that its 2017 grape harvest was its second highest ever harvest.

In comments reported in the Guardian newspaper Mr Thompson said: “The biggest potential impact of Brexit is on agricultural labour. Kent has had eastern Europeans picking fruit in recent years, but we’ll all starve if the labour issue is not sorted after Brexit.”

Prime Minister Theresa May has said she wants to see net migration fall to the “tens of thousands”.

Last week Oakedene Farm, near Maidstone, reported having to dump tons of raspberries because no one could be employed to pick them.

Mr Thompson said: “We want a resolution to allow us to have freedom of movement for labour to pick the fruit. This is something that affects all fruit farmers across the south east of England.

Brexit fears over a shortage of fruit pickers at Chapel Down

Brexit fears over a shortage of fruit pickers at Chapel Down

“I’m hoping it will be sorted out and I hope they won’t close the doors, as if there’s no one to pick the fruit, we’ll have to import everything.” 

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We remain committed to bringing down net migration to sustainable levels.

“After we leave the EU, we will put in place an immigration system which works in the best interests of the whole of the UK.

"Crucial to the development of this new immigration system will be the views from a range of businesses, including those in agriculture and the food and drink industries. We have also asked the Migration Advisory Committee to assess the economic and social impact of EU citizens in the UK.

“We are carefully considering the options for the future immigration system and will set out our plans shortly.”

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