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Prime Minister to quadruple the number of migrant workers that can take up seasonal jobs on British farms next year

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall
Credit: Reuters 

Boris Johnson is to quadruple the number of migrant workers that can take up seasonal jobs on British farms next year, The Telegraph can disclose.

The Prime Minister has signed off plans to allow fruit and vegetable farmers to hire up to 10,000 workers from outside of the EU for temporary roles in 2020 - an increase from a quota of 2,500 in 2019.

The move follows intensive lobbying by the National Farmers Union, which had warned that its members faced shortages of between 8,000 and 10,000 workers.

It is likely to be cited by senior Conservatives during the election campaign as evidence that the party will continue to welcome migrants who will benefit the UK after Brexit. The increase in the quota has been overseen by Theresa Villiers, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, and Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, who has pledged that the post-Brexit immigration system will "work in the best interests of Britain."

As the Conservatives prepare a major suite of policies to present to the electorate over the next five weeks, The Telegraph also understands that Mr Johnson's team have been weighing up a possible manifesto pledge to  help private renters onto the property ladder with a targeted tax. Under the proposals, landlords would be exempted from paying capital gains tax on properties they sell to existing tenants, in order to boost home ownership.

The increase in the quota has been overseen by Theresa Villiers, Credit: AFP 

On Saturday night, confirming the Conservatives' plans to quadruple the current seasonal workers quota for next year, Ms Villiers said: “The farming workforce are crucial to our economy and to the success of the food and farming sector - and the Conservatives recognise that.

"Our immigration system should reflect the needs of the farming sector, and expanding and continuing the seasonal workers scheme will be an important part of that. This is a victory for the NFU who have campaigned effectively for this scheme - and we are listening to them."

George Eustice, the farming minister, added: "I spent ten years working in the soft fruit and vegetable industry and understand the challenges food producers face. The UK operated a successful seasonal agricultural workers scheme from 1945 until recent times and, as we leave the EU, we need to develop schemes like this that deliver controlled migration."

A two year Seasonal Agricultural Workers pilot scheme was announced by the Government last year after the NFU urged ministers to  ensure British farms are able to recruit enough workers during the critical harvest periods.

Most seasonal workers currently come from EU countries and farmers have warned that they could face a labour shortage under Mr Johnson's plans to end the free movement of EU citizens to the UK.

In September 2018 ministers announced that they would test the Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme over 2019 and 2020, with 2,500 non-EU temporary workers allowed into the UK each year to ease labour shortages during peak production periods. A Conservative source said: "We are continuing to listen to the asks of our farming sector, which is why we are quadrupling the quota for next year to 10,000."

Earlier this year, Ali Capper, the chairman of the NFU's horticulture and potatoes board, said: “While I was delighted when the government announced the new scheme, 2,500 permits are not enough when you have shortages of 8-10,000, so the NFU has been asking since last year for 2,500 to become 10,000.

“We will need to see significant increases next year regardless of what happens with the Brexit and deal or no deal. And assuming there is a deal and we exit the EU in 2020, we really will need this scheme to be fit for purpose." The NFU has also  been lobbying ministers to make the scheme permanent.

Meanwhile, two government sources also confirmed that Mr Johnson's team had been weighing up a scheme modelled on proposals set out by Onward, and the Centre for Policy Studies, two centre-right think tanks, last year, to offer a rebate on capital gains tax due when landlords sell to their tenants. Under the proposals, the windfall would be split between the landlord and tenant, giving renters tens thousands of pounds towards their mortgage deposit.

Following his election as Conservative leader, Mr Johnson said: "I think young people need the prospect of home ownership. A stake in society, The ability to own at least a share of their home."