MORE than a third of businesses across the UK’s food and farming industry would become ‘unviable’ without access to European workers, new research has found.
A report by the Food and Drink Federation said 36 per cent of firms in the industry’s £110bn supply chain would see their business models fail if they could not hire EU nationals.
Supported by trade bodies throughout the food, drink and farming industry, the study said 17 per cent of firms would shift their operations overseas in response to a block on EU workers.
The research was sourced from 627 business and included input from the Association of Labour Providers, British Beer and Pub Association, British Hospitality Association, British Retail Consortium, Fresh Produce Consortium and the National Farmers’ Union.
To ensure the future of the supply chain, they have called on the government to secure the rights of European nationals currently living in the UK, review how immigration data is recorded and build an ‘attractive and effective’ migration system.
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 that will hurt the UK culturally and economically.’
There are two million EU nationals in the UK economy, 20 per cent of whom are working in the food and drink supply chain.
Nearly a half of businesses said EU workers were looking to leave the UK due to uncertainty over their future, according to the study – and, 31 per cent of firms said they had seen EU nationals depart since the Brexit vote.
A government spokesman said: ‘After we leave the EU we must have an immigration system which works in the best interests of the UK.
‘Crucial to the development of this will be the views from a range of businesses, including the agricultural, food, drink and manufacturing sectors.’