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Government turns on charm for Clarkson’s Farm stars

UK farm
By Will Neale
16 May 2023
Public Affairs

Today, the government held its first ‘Farm to Fork Summit’, as part of the launch of its new package of support for farmers to ‘strengthen food security and grow the economy’.

Unlike most summits of industry leaders like Davos or any one of the many COPs we’ve had in recent times, today didn’t feature world leaders or celebrities arriving in private planes, but rather the Clarkson’s Farm star Caleb Cooper arriving on foot. Cooper’s boss, Jeremy Clarkson has been outspoken on the topic since hosting his hit Amazon show. 

However, very much like Davos and COP today’s summit has done little fix the fundamental and politically inconvenient issues that the summit was held to solve.

In farming’s case, that issue is immigration. Or rather the lack of it.

The NFU has said that in 2022 over £60m worth of food was left unpicked and wasted as a result of a labour shortage of food pickers. It is claimed that food pickers, who travel to the UK during the harvest season can longer enter the United Kingdom from the EU as a result of Brexit.

As part of the summit, the government has announced that 45,000 short term visas will be granted to work in the UK for food picking. However, industry has quickly responded claiming its it needs nearly double that number to meet current demand.

At the National Conservative Convention over the week Home Secretary Suella Braverman preempted today’s announcement by claiming Britain should continue to reduce its reliance on low skilled labour from the EU and instead encourage Brits to do the work.

Whilst Downing Street claim Braverman’s comments had been cleared in advance the statement hints at least some level of unease within the Cabinet at the government’s commitment to foreign labour. Braverman’s personal reputation is tied to her ability to break the Home Office curse and reduce immigration figures by a drastic amount and to stop small boats crossing the Channel.

It is rumored that Jeremy Hunt wants to boost immigration as a means to generate economic growth. The Office for Budget Responsibility said legal migration would counter the UK’s slower growth in productivity, while the Chancellor acknowledged last year that this was “very important” to the economy.

Whilst immigration is a noisy and controversial issue, if polling is to be trusted it’s not at the top of voters’ minds even if you think it would be. In YouGov’s weekly ‘most important issues tracker’ only 28% of respondents view immigration as the most important issue, a long way behind the most important issue - the economy - on 65%.