Evidence & Policy
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The entanglement of employers and political elites in migration policymaking: the case of Brexit and the revival of UK horticulture’s guestworker scheme

Author: Sam Scott1
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  • 1 University of Gloucestershire, UK
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Background:

Following Brexit, and the ending of freedom of movement, labour supply crises have emerged in the UK. The paper focuses on the horticultural sector, where these crises have been particularly pronounced, with fears of crops being left to rot in the fields now commonplace.

Aims and objectives:

To examine the scale and nature of employer pressure on government with respect to UK low-wage migration policymaking in the period (2016–2020) following the Brexit vote.

Methods:

Thematic analysis of five parliamentary inquiries over the 2016–2020 Brexit period covering 515 documents and amounting to a total of 4,227 pages of evidence.

Findings:

Numerous political inquiries emerged after the 2016 Brexit referendum that opened up the opportunity for employers to publicly press government for more liberal low-wage migration policies. Employers responded with concerted, weighty and consistent pressure that revolved around: emphasising a labour supply crisis; underlining the lack of suitable local labour; presenting government with a range of unsavoury alternatives to low-wage immigration; and championing a new seasonal guestworker scheme to avoid these unsavoury alternatives.

Discussion and conclusions:

The Brexit period (2016–2020) saw a willingness within UK government to listen to employers with respect to migration policy. In the food production industry, employers responded with a strong and consistent voice and they got what they wanted: a new horticultural guestworker scheme. We cannot say for certain though that correlation equals causation, and more research is now needed into the intimate entanglement of employers and political elites in the migration policy process.

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  • 1 University of Gloucestershire, UK

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