The shadow of Brexit

The potential implications of the UK’s eventual withdrawal from the European Union are beginning to crystallise, and there are ominous signs for the hospitality sector.

Many commentators, myself included, thought that a ‘soft’ Brexit would be the inevitable and sensible solution to such a momentous shift in trade arrangements between Britain and Europe. But it appears that prime minister Theresa May – who was originally in favour of remaining in the EU – has embarked on a course that could well see the hardest of hard Brexits, involving a withdrawal from the single market.

One of the key elements of the single market is the free movement of EU citizens between countries – if that is scrapped then a huge number of hospitality sector employees would be at risk in their positions. The British Hospitality Association says that, at a conservative estimate, 15 per cent of the sector’s workforce are EU citizens, more than 700,000 people.

For an industry that is already struggling to recruit and retain staff, the sudden loss of these numbers casts a long and dark shadow.

Pro-Brexiteers pointed to the post-referendum drop in the value of the pound as the precursor to a boom in inbound overseas tourism and spend in the UK. But while there has been boost in overseas investors buying UK property assets, including hotels, the BHA says the surge in tourism has yet to arrive, and should not be relied on by the industry.

Our industry is full of resilient and resourceful people, and Brexit will inevitably bring some advantages, but the staffing issue is one that must be addressed, and addressed soon. The sector needs clarity from government so it can put measures in place to prepare for the loss of EU staff, and work out how to replace them.

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