The food and drinks industry after the EU referendum

15 September 2017
What was claimed

The food and drinks industry say they face significant disruption and economic damage if EU nationals continue to leave the UK.

Our verdict

The UK's Food and Drink Federation has warned of this disruption, although we don’t know yet how many EU nationals in the industry will end up leaving the UK.

“Today we hear stark warnings from the food and drink industry that they face significant disruption and economic damage if European nationals continue to leave.”

Vince Cable, 24 August 2017

We’ve asked Mr Cable’s office for more information, but this claim seems to be based on a survey carried out by Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

The FDF said that in the wake of the Brexit vote: “it is only a matter of time before the uncertainty reported by businesses results in an irreversible exit of EU workers from these shores.”

There are around 2.4 million EU nationals working in the UK, an estimated 411,000 of whom worked in the food and drink supply chain in 2016 (excluding workers from the Republic of Ireland).

The FDF surveyed trade bodies and businesses of all sizes involved in the food and drinks industry in Spring this year. Of those who responded 47% said that EU nationals working for them were considering leaving as a direct result of the EU referendum. 31% said EU nationals had already left and 21% said that there had been no change since June last year.

The first thing to bear in mind is that someone considering leaving the UK doesn’t tell us whether or not they eventually will. A survey like this is a cause for concern, but it’s not proof of an impending exodus of workers.

Secondly, this also doesn’t tell us anything about the number of businesses or proportion of workers it affects. Some of the respondents to the survey were small businesses employing fewer than 50 people. Others were trade associations representing over 200 businesses and one million people. Each will count as just one response in the survey results.

Another question the survey asked was how confident the respondents would be in their ability to employ workers from the EU over the next two years (until the date the UK officially leaves the EU). Just over half aren’t confident they will be able to fill all of the unskilled or low-skilled roles they need while about a quarter aren’t sure if they’ll be able to fill the highly skilled posts.

In response to another question, around half said that their businesses would seek to recruit locally if it didn’t have access to any EU nationals. 36% said their business would become unviable.

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