Trade body the British Sandwich Association has said it remains “extremely concerned” about the availability of migrant labour despite Theresa May’s commitment that EU citizens living in the UK would be able to stay.

The Prime Minister yesterday (22 June) told European leaders that around three million EU citizens living in the UK would be allowed to stay following Brexit. She explained that a new ‘UK settled status’ would grant EU migrants who had lived in the UK for five years the right to stay and access health, education and other benefits.

“While the association welcomes any move to allow EU nationals to continue working in the UK, we are still extremely concerned about the availability of labour generally, particularly in areas such as London,” said Jim Winship, director of the British Sandwich Association.

The UK food manufacturing and foodservice sectors rely on staff from outside the UK as they cannot find sufficient employees from the UK population to fill these jobs, he added.

“Indeed, some retail outlets in London rely on recruiting 70-80% of their staff from outside Britain and would not be able to function without these, with subsequent damage to the UK economy.”

Meanwhile, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) welcomed May’s announcement and said it was pleased the Government has listened to its members.

“The FDF was the first trade association to call for the right to remain following last year’s referendum result and have consistently made the case to ministers and officials, in the UK and EU,” said Ian Wright, FDF director.

“We employ 117,000 EU workers within the food and drink sector and they play a vital role in guaranteeing the success of the £110 billion ‘farm to fork’ food chain. They are hugely valued, but in the past 12 months have lived under a cloud of uncertainty. We now look forward to further details from the government on Monday and urge negotiators on both sides to resolve this matter swiftly.”

Ministry of Cake managing director Chris Ormrod, who has previously discussed with British Baker concerns about access to migrant labour, said that the announcement should have been made much earlier.

“It will give some much-needed comfort to many of my team here. However, as always, I do want to see the detail as soon as possible to ensure that there are no trip-ups,” Ormrod said.

“The food industry still faces longer term uncertainty over the ongoing ability to employ European workers where needed, and I’d urge the government negotiators to make that a key priority in the months ahead.”