The National Sheep Association’s chief executive Phil Stocker has admitted they are concerned about the impact on the livestock farming sector of the proposed £30,000 wage threshold for skilled labour.

The NSA believes the proposal, as part of the government immigration White Paper released before Christmas will impact on abattoir vets, whose salaries often do not reach the £30k cut-off, and that not enough consideration is being given to general staffing needs in abattoirs.

Mr Stocker said: “For many people Brexit was driven by a desire to reduce migration levels, with concerns that cheaper labour was undercutting the British workforce or taking jobs away.

“But we know that on average our abattoirs are more than 75 per cent reliant on migrant labour, and that foreign veterinary cover is often even higher than this.

This is not because this workforce is cheap but because the sector cannot get reliable British workers to do the jobs. We are increasingly concerned that not enough thought and preparation is being put into ensuring general and veterinary staff at abattoirs will be maintained and we know that already many plants are working below peak efficiency because of labour shortages.

“It seems there is an assumption that if conditions are better the sector will attract British workers, or that technology will simply come in to replace people. Neither of these assumptions are anywhere near being a possibility.”

He added that many workers are uncertain of the future and without government reassurance “we can’t expect them to keep coming to do the work”.