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Chapel Down CEO warns of labour shortage post-Brexit

Britons will “starve” if European fruit pickers are shut out after Brexit, before the potential labour shortage is addressed, the chief executive of English wine producer Chapel Down has warned.

Chapel Down CEO Frazer Thompson

Speaking to the Press Association, Frazer Thompson said that the biggest potential impact (of Brexit) will be 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.” he said.

England’s biggest winemaker, based in Kent, relies on EU workers to pick grapes for its drinks, which also include beer, cider and gin.

Thompson added: “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. 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.”

According to the National Farmers’ Union, the horticulture industry had a 29% shortfall of seasonal workers in September, resulting in tonnes of fruit being left to rot in farms across the country with Brexit making it harder to recruit European pickers, despite the fact that EU citizens are currently free to live and work in Britain without a permit.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: “We have already been clear there will be an implementation period after we leave the EU to avoid a cliff edge for businesses and that EU citizens already working in the UK will be able to apply for settled status so they can stay,” she said.

While Prime Minister Theresa May has said that she hopes that Brexit will cause net migration to drop significantly, the impact on a potential labour shortfall is yet to be fully addressed, and there remain doubt over Britain’s ability to import or export anything freely with the EU and the rest of the world post-Brexit with trade talks yet to begin.

Chapel Down sources its grapes from 23 vineyards across the south of England including sites in Dorset, Hampshire, Sussex, Kent and Essex. It also owns the largest vineyard (115 acres) in Kent, the Kit’s Coty estate on the North Downs.

This year Chapel Down reported a 10% rise in grape yield compared with 2016 – its second highest yield of fruit to date – despite harsh frosts in late April.

More recently, the producer announced its first move into the gin and vodka category with the launch of a vodka and a gin produced using grapes from its 2016 harvest.

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