This week, the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) warned that over a third of its members businesses would become unviable without access to EU labour, as 47% of EU workers consider moving away from permanent and seasonal roles. The FDF’s landmark Brexit survey was conducted across a wide range of trade bodies including the British Retail Consortium and the National Farmers Union. Its survey of the “farm to fork” supply chain said 31% of businesses had already seen EU workers leave the UK.
The UK food and drink supply chain contributes £110bn to the British economy and employs 4m people, representing 13.2% of UK employment. Of the 2m EU nationals working in the UK, 20% currently work in the food and drink supply chain. Since the EU referendum, almost three quarters of businesses which took part in the survey reported that their EU workers were concerned about their right to remain in the UK and almost 50% of businesses said EU nationals were considering leaving.
This corresponds with migration statistics revealed yesterday which confirm that net migration to the UK has fallen to its lowest level in 3 years and significantly more EU citizens left the country in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Following these revelations, Liberal Democrats leader Vince Cable said the figures were evidence of an economically damaging “Brexodus” of EU workers and this was all down to the failure of the Conservative government to guarantee EU citizen’s right to stay. Vince Cable has urged the government to “act urgently” to give assurances to skilled EU citizens “before any more damage” is done to the UK’s already weakened economy.
In its report, the FDF has made a number of short term, medium and long term recommendations to the government:
We expect that the government is aware of the significant impact Brexit is having on migration flows (despite not yet leaving the EU) and hope the food industry’s concerns are considered carefully. We understand from our business clients that this is an issue affecting all sectors and urge the government to clarify EU nationals rights urgently.