The CBI’s President has discussed the importance of agri-business and how the welfare of this industry determines the welfare of our whole country in an address to the East Midlands.
John Allan highlighted the strength of the East Midlands’ agricultural economy, and the opportunities that await it post-Brexit, if a good Brexit deal is achieved. But this cannot happen in a “no deal” scenario, as businesses are already being affected by contingency costs.
Speaking at Doddington Hall, Lincoln to East Midlands’ business leaders John Allan CBE, CBI President, said: “More and more, people are seeing the East Midlands as the best place in the UK to do business, from Nottingham to Northampton and beyond. And the reason is clear. Aside from being home to nine pioneering universities – which attract almost 100,000 students from across the UK each year – it’s the heart of agriculture in Britain.
“Farms here produce over 30% of UK’s vegetables, and of course, all this is supported by a world leading transport and logistics industry. Which is 40% more productive in the East Midlands than the rest of the UK as a whole.”
He added: “Let me be clear: firms don’t take political decisions. It’s not our job. But, we can provide the evidence to help decisions get taken, and the evidence suggests that no-deal would be an economic catastrophe. Particularly for the East Midlands – which makes so many of the goods that we export to the EU.
“Last year, the UK exported over £208 million pounds worth of chickens to the EU. But the CBI has heard – first hand – from poultry farmers about just how severe a no-deal scenario would be. Without a deal with the EU guaranteeing a common rule book for goods, checks could take days. But it’s not just farming. We’ve heard from companies, up and down the UK about Brexit contingency plans which are already costing businesses money.
“The Chequers deal is not perfect, but it does show that the government has listened to business. It’s proposed a free trade area for goods with a common rulebook, a good starting point at which the UK Government, EU and business can work with.”
John continued: “Last month the CBI called for a new immigration system, one that earns public trust while allowing business to access the talent we need. A system that’s open but controlled too, and it must work for the East Midlands.
“The UK currently relies on more than 60,000 seasonal workers a year to plant vegetables, pick flowers, grade crops and pack produce. It’s not a secret that UK firms are already dealing with skills shortages – even before a single change to our EU immigration policy.
“Yesterday, the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee released a new report about the impact of EU migration on the UK. It provides useful insight on the ways migration can boost innovation and productivity, and how this leads to increased training for UK workers. And it’s right to suggest that we end the arbitrary cap on tier 2 visas for non-EU workers.
“But the CBI is very clear: This is not a roadmap for a new system. It overlooks the essential link between immigration and trade. And the role that access for workers will play when negotiating trade deals – not just with Europe but with the rest of the world.
“Low-skilled workers are so vital to businesses here in the East Midlands. They don’t just underpin the local economy but have also helped build an economy that works for the whole of the UK.”