Henry Porter writes: As I watched half a dozen Eastern European workers cutting zucchini and placing them on a slow-moving trailer in the small English village where I was brought up, one of the hard truths regarding the epic, self-defeating lunacy of Brexit came home to me: Britain’s precarious food supply.
Under the European Union’s right to the freedom of movement, some 250 Eastern European workers come here each year to pick vegetables — mostly onions, parsley, beans, Brussels sprouts, and cabbages — which are grown in the alluvial soil beside the River Avon. This is a sensible arrangement that suits both the farmer and migrant workers. But it was not always so. When I was a teenager, roaming the countryside with a .410-gauge shotgun or a fishing rod, I only ever came across one foreigner in the fields: Franz Reinwart, a Sudeten German from Czechoslovakia, who was brought to Britain as a P.O.W. during the last war and stayed on. The others were English and they came mostly from the local town in Worcestershire.
Franz was a gentle, good-looking man and a hard worker, too, much like his young successors from Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, and Lithuania, who toil long hours in all weather and earn enough to make the summer trip to the U.K. worthwhile. About 60,000 seasonal workers come to Britain every year and it is fair to say that British farmers would be lost without them. More important, if Brexit goes ahead, they cannot hope to replace them with the local labor force, which has come to see this kind of back-breaking work as beneath itself, or, in any case, is probably not very good at it.
I have no idea whether this local farmer voted to stay or leave the E.U. in the referendum, or if he even voted at all. Yet it was often farmers, who need foreign workers — and the rural working class, who are reluctant to become agricultural laborers — who voted to “take their country back.” Watching those men in the zucchini field this week, I wondered, not for the first time, how voters have become so blinded to their own interests. [Continue reading…]