Recent figures published on 24 August 2017 by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that net migration to the UK (the difference between the number of people entering the country and leaving it) is at its lowest level in three years. The main reason for this change is the number of EU citizens leaving the UK (33,000) – in particular people from the EU8 countries.
In addition to this, fewer EU citizens are coming to the UK because of the uncertainty surrounding their rights following the Brexit vote; the weaker pound; and the recent surge in xenophobic activity – particularly towards citizen from the EU8 countries.
One of the areas most affected by this trend is the food and drink sector; it employs close to 4 million people, of whom around 400,000 are EU citizens who live in the UK either permanently or for a season. The proportion of workers in the food and drink sector who are from the EU is the highest of all sectors. In an industry survey published at the end of August, business owners have been told that their EU employees are thinking of leaving due to uncertainty about the outcome of the Brexit negotiations
The food and drink industry needs EU workers to function from the farming and growing, production of food; transport; to working in stores, restaurants and hotels.
The food and drink sector’s reliance on skilled workers from EU countries means that businesses are already having difficulties recruiting for the vacancies they currently have. The areas particularly affected include farming, food processing, retailing and catering.
These jobs have traditionally been occupied by EU workers and there will need to either be a clear announcement from the Government on the rights of EU citizens or a back-up plan to fill the empty vacancies for skilled workers. The Food and Drink Federation is very worried about the irreversibility of the departure of so many EU nationals and has made nine recommendations to the government to protect the supply chain.
In addition to the issue with the lack of skilled workers, the UK leaving the Single Market might lead to the imposition of tariffs and quotas, which could limit the export of UK products to the EU. Furthermore, there is a risk that food prices will rise unless the government ensures EU citizens can work in the UK after Brexit, as they provide skilled as well as semi-skilled and unskilled labour at a competitive cost for employers.
The Food and Drink Federation – along with large food and drink manufacturers and distributors – have sent a letter to the Government that their sector is as much at risk as financial services sector and the automotive sector, and therefore it should be treated with the same importance when considering the future of EU workers in the UK if a work-permit system was implemented. “The government should offer unambiguous reassurance to EU workers throughout our supply chain about their right to remain “.
 new EU member states: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia