Farming could be hard hit by Labour's kneejerk plan to curb migrant workers, Phil Bennion MEP has warned

Phil talking to a Shropshire Farmer about his enterprise.Labour leader Ed Miliband's plans to curb migrant workers and take unspecified action to make it more difficult to hire them could devastate the rural economy of the West Midlands region, says Euro MP and farmer Phil Bennion.

The region's Lib Dem MEP said that he feared a 'race to the gutter' by Labour over immigration policy could have serious consequences in sections of the labour market where employers find it impossible to recruit locally for seasonal jobs such as fruit and vegetable picking.

Phil Bennion said: "I heard Mr Miliband on the radio and was appalled. He seems to have decided to play to the gallery over immigration, reacting to Gordon Brown's difficulties, without realising the fact that major parts of our economy depend on seasonal migrant workers.

"Counties across the West Midlands region are highly dependent upon seasonal migrant workers, particularly for picking soft fruits in Herefordshire and Worcestershire and in my home area of southern Staffordshire. They also join the harvesting operations for cereals and potatoes in late summer and autumn.

"There also many good qualified drivers from other EU member states working for haulage firms across the region, playing a vital role in addressing skill shortages which despite unemployment continue to exist.

"Any proposals to discriminate against rural businesses which need to employ seasonal labour like this could have devastating consequences for the rural economy in the West Midlands.

"Free movement of workers is not a one way process. Millions of UK nationals now live or work in the economies of our EU partners or further afield.

"The West Midlands region, Britain and the European economy as a whole benefits from flexibility. Labour's crude attempt to play the protectionist card and join a race to the gutter over immigration won't convince many voters but could end up leaving us all poorer in the long run.

"Whenever I see Ed Miliband launching a new policy he gives the impression of being a recently promoted junior minister struggling with his brief. This speech may just be posturing but if some of the measures implied by it were carried out, a huge section of our rural economy would be seriously affected."