Britain could lose around 6% of its retail workers unless EU nationals can work freely in the UK after Brexit, the country’s retail trade body has warned.
In its report, The People Roadmap, the British Retail Consortium said 170,000 EU nationals work directly for the retail industry- 6% of the industry's workforce.
The BRC said without quick action to provide certainty for EU citizens working in the UK and an immigration system fit for the future, UK retailers could face a crippling jobs shortage.
The report stated that around a quarter of workers in the warehousing and distribution sector in the Midlands and the South East, and more than a third in London, were from the EU.
Separate figures by the UK Food and Drink Supply Chain Workforce Group said a third of workers in the food and drink supply chain were EU workers.
“EU nationals are critical to the ensuring the nation is fed,” the report said.
“The food and drink supply chain represent 13.2% of UK employment and a significant proportion of those individuals are from the EU. Without the right systems in place for retailers and their supply chains, when the UK leaves the EU consumers could be left with less choice and higher prices.”
The report added that among British retail firms, 22% had reported that EU workers had already left, while 56% said that EU workers were concerned about their right to remain in the UK.
Helen Dickinson, BRC chief executive, said the services sector accounts for 80% of the UKs economy and losing access to such staff could be a "disaster" for the country.
“The UK’s decision to leave the EU has created uncertainty, not only for businesses but for the people from the EU they employ,” she said.
“Our data is clear that unless we have the right structures in place to support retailers to attract, recruit and retain workers, consumers will soon start to see a feel and impact as they shop.”
In response to the report, a government spokesman told the Press Association the government was working to create a immigration system which would support UK businesses.
“After we leave the EU we will have an immigration system which works in the best interests of the UK. Crucial to the development of this will be the views from a range of businesses,” he said.
“We have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to assess the role EU citizens play in the UK economy and society. This process will allow employers to submit their thoughts to an influential group of experts, independent of government.”
In an address to Parliament today, prime minister Theresa May called for a “new, deep and special partnership between a sovereign United Kingdom and a strong and successful European Union”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “no real progress has been made” in the past 15 months since the referendum.
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