Despite Brexit, European Economy Shows Signs Of Momentum

Businesses “are trying to make it easy and as pleasant as possible for people to come to work in the U.K,” said Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association. “Despite that, people are staying away.”


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Marion Regan, a farmer in southern Kent whose strawberries sell out during the Wimbledon tennis tournament, said: “We have seen fewer people applying and fewer people being able to return, and more people canceling at the last minute. That makes it more uncertain to plan ahead.”

In Britain, the Brexit vote focused on immigration, and supporters of the exit option complained that workers, especially from European Union member states like Romania and Bulgaria, were stealing jobs from born-and-bred Britons. The debates around the 2016 referendum were dominated by divisive issues of race, religion and tolerance. Brexit supporters, for example, said that continued membership exposed Britain to a new wave of Muslim immigration and made it more vulnerable to Islamist radicals.

The Brexit campaign was supported by some right-wing and nationalist groups, and the vote gave rise to concerns that minorities and immigrants would be more vulnerable to hate crimes, which reached record levels this year, according to the Home Office.

The “Brexodus” has been compounded by a fall in the value of the pound against the euro. For migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, the weaker currency has made the journey to Britain less worthwhile; there are similar jobs closer to home, in Germany and the Netherlands, for example. Given that other European Union countries are also struggling to hire fruit pickers, the competition to hire young, able-bodied workers has become even more intense.

The laborers who now come to Britain tend to be older and less skilled, according to farmers, who say hiring British workers is nearly impossible. “It’s disappointing that you can’t recruit U.K. nationals,” said Mr. Hardman of Hops, the agency that recruits seasonal laborers. “It’s not attractive for them. They find it beneath them.”

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