SUELLA Braverman has been lambasted by Scottish soft fruit farmers after she criticised their reliance on workers from abroad. 

The Home Secretary claimed there was “no good reason” why the UK cannot train its own fruit pickers.

NFU Scotland hit out at the minister, and called on the government to "move away from anti-migration politics and rhetoric to make good policy.”

Ms Braverman's comments came in a speech to the National Conservatism conference in London, in which she called for a drop in net migration, saying it was "not racist" to want to control borders.

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Around 8,000 tonnes of berries went unpicked last year because of staff shortages. 

The government launched a seasonal worker visa in March 2019 with a quota of 2,500 places per year. However, numbers have risen every year, with the quota increasing to 38,000 in 2022.

Ms Braverman’s wide-ranging address - seen by many as preparing the ground for an eventual leadership bid - also saw her speak about multiculturalism, trans issues, and slavery.

The start of the speech was disrupted by heckles from two Extinction Rebellion protestors.

"Anyone else?" the Home Secretary said after the environmental activists had been bundled out, adding: "It is audition day for the shadow cabinet."

Ms Braverman told the audience: “High-skilled workers support economic growth. Fact. But we need to get overall immigration numbers down. And we mustn’t forget how to do things for ourselves.

“There is no good reason why we can’t train up enough HGV drivers, butchers or fruit pickers.

“Brexit enables us to build a high-skilled, high wage economy that is less dependent on low-skilled foreign labour. That was our 2019 manifesto pledge and what we must deliver.”

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NFU Scotland’s Horticulture Chair Iain Brown, a soft fruit and vegetable grower from Fife, accused the Home Secretary of “naivety.” 

“Many Scottish soft fruit and vegetable growers have invested time and money in trying to source a local work force, but a survey of our members failed to find any farm that had a positive response.  

“It has not been for the lack of trying.  We had one Scottish fruit and veg business offer 100 contracts of employment to UK applicants; six were accepted and only three turned up to work.

“Our survey also identified that for businesses who require pickers, the retention rate for EU and other migrant workers is over 80 per cent while the retention rate for UK workers is 32%."

“Migrant workers doing highly valued short-term seasonal work on fruit and vegetable farms is a reality," he added. "This is a reality that is not going to change, regardless of the fact that our relationship with the European Union has changed.

“We need migrants to get the food that is grown on our farms onto our plates, and not rotting in our fields. We need the government to move away from anti-migration politics and rhetoric to make good policy.”

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North East Fife MSP Willie Rennie said: "The Home Secretary is completely out of touch with the needs of Scottish farming. It's like she thinks raspberries just materialise on the shelves of Waitrose.

"In my Fife constituency produce is rotting before it can reach the shelves because farms cannot get the staff they need.

"The Conservatives' anti-migrant rhetoric has made the UK less appealing to workers and their anti-migrant policies have made it far harder for businesses to get the staff they need.

"The Home Secretary may be keen to pull up the drawbridge, but farmers are not."

During her speech to the conference in Westminster, Ms Braverman also claimed Conservatives "understand that borders, national identity and public order are fundamental to a healthy nation.” 

“It’s not xenophobic to say that mass and rapid migration is unsustainable in terms of housing supply, public services or community relations. Nor is it bigoted to say that we have too many asylum seekers in this country for whom we have insufficient accommodation.

“That absorbing more and more people means building more and more homes is another one of those unfashionable facts that the open-borders brigade would say means we’re starting a culture war.

“It’s not racist for anyone, ethnic minority or otherwise, to want to control our borders. I reject the left’s argument that it’s hypocritical for someone from an ethnic minority, like mine, to know these facts or to speak these truths.”

Ms Braverman said that people who come to the UK “must not commit crimes”, “need to learn English and understand British social norms.”

She also argued that people in the UK should not feel “terrible about our past” and that “white people do not exist in a special state of sin or collective guilt”.

Downing Street said Ms Braverman "continues to represent the UK Government views on all issues relating to the Home Office, as you would expect.”

Sir Keir Starmer earlier urged Ms Braverman to cancel her planned speech on immigration and “get back to the office”.

The Labour leader told LBC radio: “Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, is today making a speech about what she thinks ought to happen on immigration. She is the Home Secretary.

“They’ve been in power for 13 years. This is like (Mikel) Arteta… doing a speech this afternoon on what Arsenal ought to do.”