Permit return pondered in West Norfolk Brexit debate

Election Count at Lynnsport King's Lynn'Henry Bellingham ANL-150805-111717009
Election Count at Lynnsport King's Lynn'Henry Bellingham ANL-150805-111717009

The idea has been put forward as discussions on how agriculture, and the wider economy, should adapt to the consequences of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union continue.

Access to overseas labour is one of the areas being examined in a study by the National Farmers Union (NFU), which says it is a particularly important issue in West Norfolk.

And, this week, North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham, who backed the Leave campaign, said there was “no doubt” that the industry needed continuing access to workers from abroad.

But he added: “We have got to work up this points system for immigration. It will mean industries that need labour at particular times of the year will be able to get it. We need to move back towards permits.”

The idea was also pondered by members who attended an NFU meeting in Swaffham last Thursday to gauge members’ views on what measures were needed to protect the industry.

Edward Stanton, who farms at Snettisham, said employers may also need permits to bring staff in from overseas, as well as workers seeking to come here.

The balance between immigration controls and economic opportunities is likely to be one of the key issues when negotiations for Britain’s departure finally get underway.

There have been calls this week for the triggering of the EU’s Article 50, the process through which those negotiations would begin, to be delayed until late next year.

Supporters say that is necessary so full plans for ensuring continued access to the single market and controlling immigration are developed.

But some Brexit supporters maintain that immigration control must take precedence.

Sir Henry also called for a more efficient system of subsidies to replace those which British farmers currently benefit from under EU membership.

But he warned that the industry would have to make a compelling case for support in the long term, rather than simply the immediate aftermath of Brexit, against other competing priorities, such as the NHS.

He said: “The NFU and other organisations have to have a really effective campaign on the public’s impressions of the countryside.

“It’s not a theme park. It’s where food is produced and they’ve got to win the argument on food security.”