• Food and drink prices will rise without EU workers in the supply chain, industry groups have warned
  • EU workers account for 90% of the jobs in the food and drink supply chain
  • Groups including the BRC and the Food and Drink Federation urged government to put sector on par with financial services in any points-based immigration system

Food prices are set to rise unless the government ensures EU citizens can work in the UK after Brexit, industry groups have warned.

An open letter signed by 30 food and drink industry bodies, including the British Retail Consortium, the Food and Drink Federation and the National Farmers Union, urged the government to recognise the “essential reservoir of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour” EU workers provide for their industry.

The letter, published in The Guardian, said: “Workers from the European Union, some of whom are already leaving the UK, play a significant role in delivering affordable and high-quality food and drink.”

EU workers account for 90% of jobs in the food and drink supply chain.

It said that if a points-based permit system for immigrants is introduced, the food and drink industry should be put on a par with financial services and the automotive sector.

“All options should be explored, including a workable points-based system for shortage occupations, sector-based and seasonal/guest worker schemes and effective transitionary arrangements.

”If it is not, the UK will face less food choice and higher food prices.”

Labour shortage

The letter claims that some EU workers have already started leaving the UK in the wake of the Brexit vote and asked the government to “offer unambiguous reassurance” to EU workers about their right to remain in the country.

Meanwhile, employment agencies have warned that the UK’s food industry is facing the worst labour shortage for at least 12 years.

The Association of Labour Providers (ALP), whose employment agency members supply 70% of the temporary labour used by the food and drink industry, recently said job ad responses had slumped by up to 70%.