Brexit Whats next for the Catering industry

Brexit Whats next for the Catering industry

Four years ago a new word was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, a word that is now a part of our everyday vocabulary and a regular in news headlines – Brexit.

Yes, it will be four years this summer since that momentous decision was made by the majority of the British public meaning that the future of the UK and Europe was set to change in a big way. What we didn’t know at that time was quite how long the process would take. Even now we still can’t be sure of the real impact Brexit will have on our day to day life. Will there be Brexit job losses? Or will there be Brexit job opportunities? As we continue to follow the latest Brexit news, only time will tell what the real outcomes will be.

A brief history of Brexit

It all began on 23rd June 2016 when the referendum result meant that the United Kingdom would leave the European Union. Britain was originally due to leave on 29th March 2019, but MPs rejected the Withdrawal Agreement so the date was postponed first to 12th April 2019 and later to 31st October 2019. Again the failure to agree on certain amendments to the Brexit deal meant that a further extension was granted to 31st January 2020.  Following December’s General Election, the Conservative majority voted in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement which was then agreed by the European Commission. Finally, after years of back and forth the UK formally left the EU at the end of January. 

What happened on ‘Brexit Day’?

Was there a big celebration? Did life in the UK dramatically change overnight?  After all the Brexit drama of the past, 11pm on the 31st January was a rather uneventful affair, it was merely the deadline that the UK would no longer be legally part of the European Union. 

Next steps for Brexit

So we have left the EU… well technically we have, but from now until the end of the year we are in the ‘transition period’, also known as the ‘implementation period’. During this time the UK and the EU will be negotiating their future relationship as lots of things still need to be decided and agreed upon. The UK, while no longer an EU member, will continue to trade, contribute to the EU budget and follow EU rules as before, but will have no say in the making of new EU laws. 

How will Brexit affect the catering industry?

One of the top items on the agenda for the next 11 months is the discussion of a UK-EU free trade agreement. What exactly this trade agreement will be is, as yet, unknown. There are various trade models it could follow or the UK may propose a new approach. Either way, unless an extension to the transition period is requested, a trade agreement must be reached by the 31st December 2020. 

Currently only 61% of all the food eaten in the UK is actually produced here and a huge range of products, particularly fresh fruit, vegetables and meat come from the EU, accounting for 70% of our imported food1. So the new trade agreement with the EU could affect the availability, cost and perhaps even the quality of our food. 

The other part of this, of course, is that once the transition period is over, the UK will be free to form its own trade agreements with other non-EU countries, which could mean we will start to see more fresh produce and processed foods coming in from other parts of the world. 

The impact for the food industry with the change in trade agreements is likely to vary somewhat. For some foods we may see more production and use of UK ingredients, whereas for others we may see more foods coming in from other parts of the world. It is also possible there will be some fluctuation in prices as ‘home grown’ produce could be cheaper, and new tariffs and subsidies coming into play could affect the cost of imported foods – whether this will be higher or lower is yet to be seen.

A concern for many was the prospect of delays at the ports resulting in food shortages if there was a sudden change in the import and export requirements going in and out of the UK and EU. Now that the fear of a no deal Brexit has passed, having this transition period will hopefully avoid any of these issues happening. 

Whatever the final decision on trade agreements may be, it is likely that if you are in the catering industry, you will see some changes in where your produce and ingredients are coming from.

How will Brexit affect your job in catering?

The hospitality and catering sector is one of the biggest employers of EU nationals in the UK, so Brexit is bound to have an impact on the industry. Already from 2018 to 2019 there was a drop in the number of workers from the EU, from 30% to 26%2, a trend that we may well see continue over the coming months. 

For now, free movement between the UK and the EU still applies. EU citizens will have the right to stay and continue working here as they previously have done, but it is possible that during this time of change, some will decide to return to their home country. Even after the transition period, EU citizens who were already living and working here have until June 2021 to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme which will allow them to continue living and working here in the UK. From January 2021, when the new immigration system is introduced, we may see fewer EU citizens moving here, which may have a big impact on the catering and hospitality industry. 

With continuing tourism and more people eating out, the hospitality and catering industry is continuing to grow. Forecasts suggest that 45,000 jobs will be added to the UK economy every year.3 So if we see a drop in the number of EU workers in the UK over the coming months and years, it means that there will be increasingly more jobs available in the catering industry for those with the right experience and/or qualifications. 

Now is a good time to be thinking about your career in the catering industry. You can learn more about the different job roles, by reading stories from Blue Arrow employees about their experiences in various different catering roles.

To keep ahead of the curve, register yourself with your local Blue Arrow office to stay updated with any catering job openings in your area. Alternatively, you can check out our latest listings here.


1 House of Commons Library (2019) Brexit: Trade issues for food and agriculture. (Accessed February 2020)

2 UK Hospitality Market Report (2019) Food Service Management for a Sustainable Future. (Accessed February 2020)

3 A KPMG report for the British Hospitality Association (2017) Labour migration in the hospitality sector.(Accessed February 2020)