Industry bosses have welcomed government plans to allow EU citizens to stay in the UK – but point out that many workers have already left the country.

Yesterday (8 November), the government published details of the ‘settled status’ scheme that would enable EU citizens to apply for permission to stay in the UK following Brexit.

It claimed the system would be straightforward and streamlined, and that the majority of applicants would be allowed to remain here.

The news has been greeted positively by trade bodies representing the food industry, which relies on EU labour, but there are concerns it has come too late.

“We welcome this as reassurance for those EU citizens already working in the UK,” said Jim Winship, director of the British Sandwich Association (BSA).

“However, a number of EU citizens have already left and there is already a shortage of labour in the market, which would be normally filled through the free movement of EU citizens within the UK.”

Winship added that the sandwich industry relies heavily on EU workers, most of whom stay for relatively short periods and would normally be replaced by others travelling into the UK.

“If the inward flow dries up due to immigration controls, we face some very serious economic problems in the years ahead,” he said.

His words were echoed by the Food & Drink Federation, which said it was encouraging that a system to allow EU citizens to apply for settled status was being put in place, but added: “The protracted nature of Brexit negotiations has already resulted in many of our industry’s valued EU workers leaving the UK, with many more considering their futures here.

“The UK government must do the right thing and now unilaterally guarantee the rights of these valued workers who have chosen to make the UK their home.”

The BSA has previously suggested the UK should adopt a visa system that would enable EU citizens to continue coming to work in the UK, but would tie them to a business. The BSA said this would ensure workers were easily traceable and would have a limited stay.