Supermarket bosses have warned the government that a “hard” Brexit would place food supplied in the UK at risk.
Senior figures from major food retailers Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer have joined farmers’ unions and food suppliers in an open letter published in The Times that highlighted how migrant workers and tariff-free access to the single market were crucial for the grocery sector.
The joint letter also urged the government to allow European Union citizens already working permanently in the country to be allowed to remain, and that access to seasonal and permanent employees from overseas is “essential” to the food supply chain in the UK.
“For our sector maintaining tariff-free access to the EU single market is a vital priority,” the letter reads.
“It is where 75 per cent of our food exports go, so all our farming and food businesses wish to achieve this outcome.
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“The sector needs access to EU and non-EU seasonal and permanent labour, alongside assurances that EU workers already working permanently in the UK are allowed to remain.
“This access to labour is essential as it underpins the UK food chain’s timely delivery of high quality affordable food to consumers. We would urge that the UK Government seeks both these goals as the whole of society and the economy will benefit.”
However, Prime Minister Theresa May has indicated that curbing immigration was more important than remaining part of the single market when she provided an update on Brexit plans during a speech to Conservatives in October.
The joint letter continues: “We are clear that the outcome of this negotiation will have far reaching effects for our sector.
“But we are equally clear that a settlement that recognises the critical role of the UK food chain will demonstrate how Brexit can be beneficial not just for our sector but also the wider economy too.”
The news comes after four EU diplomats said Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson privately told EU diplomats he supports freedom of movement although “it wasn’t government policy”, according to Sky News,
However, Johnson’s spokesman dismissed the ambassadors’ comments.
“Boris said what he has said many times before – he is pro-immigration but wants to take back control to limit numbers,” he said.
“He did not say he supported freedom of movement and challenges anyone to show proof that he ever said that.”