Businesses in the food and drink sector fear Brexit could strip out crucial workers from the supply chain, potentially leading to higher practices and a lack of stock on supermarket shelves, according to a survey released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
The industry has issued a warning of significant disruption and economic damage if the government fails to stem the flow of EU nationals leaving the UK.
Close to half of the businesses surveyed 47 per cent said EU workers were considering leaving due to the uncertainty created by Brexit, and over a third of firms said they would be unviable if they could not employ EU workers.
EU nationals have already started leaving the UK to find more secure employment; with 31 per cent of employers saying their EU workers had already jumped ship, according to a survey of more than 600 businesses representing nearly a quarter of the food chain’s 4 million workforce.
A fifth of the two million EU nationals in the UK workforce are employed by the food industry and Almost half said more planned to leave because of uncertainty about their future.
Retailers, farmers, food processors, pubs and restaurateurs have joined together to lobby the government to avoid the issue from growing, which they said would affect their ability to produce and serve the food we eat.
The Home Office said initial proposals for a new immigration system would be released this autumn.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, which represents most major British retailers, said:
“An abrupt reduction in the number of EU workers eligible to work in the UK after Brexit would result in significant disruption for the entire food supply chain, with consequences for the availability and price of UK goods for consumers.
“EU workers are key to getting British food on our shelves; from producing food, through transport to colleagues in store they are vital in providing the service and quality British consumers demand.”
He said EU workers needed more clarity about their status once the UK leaves the European Union.