In a survey of the “farm-to-fork” supply chain, comprising more than 600 businesses, representing nearly a quarter of the food chain’s workforce, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) found that almost half of all businesses surveyed said EU nationals working in the UK were considering leaving. It said that 31% of them have already seen EU workers leave the country.
The survey also found that 36% of companies said they would become unviable if they had no access to EU workers and that 17% may relocate overseas if they had no access to EU nationals.
The Federation - which represents more than 6,000 processors and manufacturers - called on the Government to guarantee the rights of nationals from across the European Economic Area.
“It is only a matter of time before the uncertainty reported by businesses results in an irreversible exit of EU workers from these shores,” says FDF director general Ian Wright. “Without our dedicated and valued workforce we would be unable to feed the nation.”
Instability in the UK-grown produce supply chain is bad news for the hospitality sector, having the potential to lead to price hikes and shortages.
Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, says that Britain’s hospitality industry could face staffing shortfalls of up to 60,000 people per year after Brexit. "There is a clear and urgent need for the UK Government to secure the rights of EEA nationals living here and to ensure there is no labour cliff-edge when the UK leaves the EU. The industry already has over 100,000 job vacancies at any given time and the BHA has been clear about the risks to the growth of our industry if there is an abrupt end to freedom of movement from Europe. It is concerning that these staffing shortfalls could be replicated throughout the food chain."
UK grown produce will be even more important when Britain leaves the EU with the price of imported produce from the EU set to increase dramatically. The Government looks likely to leave the customs union, which will see tariffs applied to food entering the country. The UK already imports roughly 25% of its food from the Europe.