Top chef warns Brexit may ‘collapse’ UK hospitality industry

by Phil Howard | 12.10.2018

The UK should be very proud of the evolution of it’s hospitality industry over the last 20 years. I run a restaurant in Chelsea, as well as one in France and have interests in several others. But I am really worried that all this progress will be jeopardised by Brexit.

It is a simple fact that if you were to take out all the European staff who work in the hospitality industry it would collapse.

Of course it affects some restaurants more than others. Speaking personally, many of my staff are from the UK but I currently have a few fantastic members of staff from the rest of Europe and its fair to say they are very worried about what is going to happen to them after March 2019.

But taking the industry as a whole, there are a lot of restaurants and hotels where the vast majority of the staff are from the EU.

Of course they won’t all disappear next spring, I appreciate there is a plan for a transitional period. But it will be the start of a process which seems almost certain to make it more likely that people will decide to just go home.

Once we come out entirely, I think it’s fair to say that everyone in this industry is asking where we will fill that employment gap. We are a wealthy nation, at least for now, and it can be very hard to find UK born and bred people who want to work as waiters, in hotel management or as chefs.

Of course we can work harder to attract staff and train our own population better but plenty of other industries will be trying the same thing. I hear similar concerns from agriculture, the NHS, road hauliers, construction and so forth, and we will be competing for a suddenly restricted workforce.

That will cause problems. Obviously we would welcome anything that can be done by government to help but surely there is a case for us thinking again about all of this.

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I feel to my core that Brexit is the wrong choice for us and for my industry. I opened a restaurant in France last year, which I called Union because I wanted to make the point that we don’t all want to turn our backs on our European partners.

The success of that restaurant depends upon a joint venture between myself and a French partner, as well as on the free flow of staff in both directions between France and the UK.

We are having to live with the reality of 2016’s Brexit vote being made off the back of a public debate which was confusing and at times straightforwardly misleading.

A People’s Vote now would, at the very least, be on the basis of a full understanding of the issue. I think we have to be given the opportunity as a country to reconsider the direction we are taking.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

One Response to “Top chef warns Brexit may ‘collapse’ UK hospitality industry”

  • Went up to London last year with my wife for an operation. Stayed in a hotel overnight. It brought home to us that London would not operate without ‘immigrants’. The hotel, the restaurants and bars were 90% staffed with non Brits. And from memory they were all charming, polite and helpful. As for the hospital…..same again! Don’t give up! We can’t be so stupid as a nation as to let this happen. See you all on the 20th!