A new survey on labour throughout the food supply chain has found almost a third of businesses (31 per cent) have seen EU nationals leave the UK since the referendum, prompting warnings of an ‘irreversible exit’ of key workers.
The study, which was carried out by a number of trade bodies including the NFU and Food and Drink Federation (FDF), also showed 47 per cent of businesses knew EU nationals who were considering leaving the county because of uncertainty surrounding their future.
17 per cent of respondents said they would look to move operations overseas without access to EU labour, and 36 per cent said their businesses would close.
Ian Wright, director general of the FDF, said: “Food is a matter of national security, so the results of this report are of central concern to businesses across the ‘farm to fork’ industries.
“It is only a matter of time before the uncertainty reported by businesses results in an irreversible exit of EU workers from these shores.
“This is a scenario which will hurt the UK culturally and economically.”
NFU deputy president Minette Batters said the report had laid bare the need for a competent and reliable workforce across the food supply chain post-Brexit.
“We are calling for an urgent and clear commitment from Government to ensure farmers and growers have access to sufficient numbers of permanent and seasonal workers post-Brexit”, she added.
“And we need clarity on the new rules for EU nationals living and working in the UK well before free movement ends in March 2019.”
The report made a number of recommendations to prevent a worst-case scenario, including legislating to secure the rights of European Economic Area nationals currently in the UK; reviewing the recording of immigration data and recognising the strategic importance of the food and drink supply chain.
In the longer term, the coalition demanded the Home Office be properly resourced to improve efficiency in the immigration system; investment in skills provision for the food and drink supply chain and changes to the benefits system to make flexible working easier.
Farming Minister George Eustice has previously told Farmers Guardian the Government has no intention of ‘pulling up the drawbridge’ after Brexit.
“We will be looking at all sorts of issues such as seasonal work permits and looking to ensure we have in place the necessary provisions for the labour we need”, he added.