Five years of Brexit: famous London restaurants unable to find staff for daytime trading

There is no such thing as lunch for Pied a Terre and Le Gavroche as Brexit bites

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Two of London's famous Michelin-starred restaurants have closed for lunchtime trading because of a staffing crisis caused by Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the fifth anniversary of the Brexit referendum as an opportunity to create more jobs and revitalise Britain.

But David Moore, the founder of Pied a Terre in London, said that the hospitality industry was facing a recruitment crisis because of the large number of foreign citizens leaving the country.

Mr Moore said Brexit was "definitely the biggest" factor behind the staff shortage that has forced him to close at lunchtimes.

French celebrity chef Michel Roux Jr, who owns the two Michelin-starred Le Gavroche restaurant in upmarket Mayfair, said it was “incredibly frustrating and painful” that he was also being forced to close at lunchtimes.

"The past year has sadly taken a great toll on the hospitality industry, but with restaurants finally being allowed to reopen, to everybody's relief, there is still a trickle effect of major problems affecting our industry, in this instance, staffing," he said.
"Since opening, restaurants up and down the country have suffered greatly with staffing problems partly due to new Brexit regulations as well as there now being a major lack of well-trained hospitality professionals since the pandemic struck.

“Whilst we have been working our hardest to resolve this issue over the last couple of months, Le Gavroche is sadly understaffed for the time being.”

UK Hospitality says 1.3 million foreign workers left the UK during the pandemic, ahead of next week's deadline for EU citizens living in the UK to apply for settled status.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Shutterstock (1302929j)
Michel Roux Jnr
Michel Roux Jnr at his restaurant Le Gavroche, London, Britain - 14 Feb 2011
Michel Roux Jr at his restaurant Le Gavroche in London. Shutterstock

So far 5.6 million applications have been received – significantly more than the 3.7 million the government estimated.

In some London boroughs the number of applicants was 80 per cent higher than their estimated population of EU citizens.

But Mr Moore said people were not responding to job adverts despite the salaries advertised.

"I don't know anybody who is not looking for a kitchen porter," he told the BBC.

Mr Johnson, the face of the successful Vote Leave campaign, said the referendum in 2016 and subsequent divorce from the bloc had given Britain an opportunity to “seize the true potential of our regained sovereignty”.

“With control over our regulations and subsidies, and with freeports driving new investment, we will spur innovation, jobs and renewal across every part of our country,” he said.

“The decision to leave the EU may now be part of our history but our clear mission is to utilise the freedom it brings to shape a better future for our people.”

But Mr Johnson’s enthusiasm is not shared by the majority of the UK, new poll results indicate.

A survey by Savanta ComRes found that if the referendum were held today the result would be a narrow win for Remain – by 51 per cent to 49 per cent – if those undecided were discounted.

On June 23, 2016, 51.9 per cent voted Leave and 48.1 per cent Remain.

The poll found that 6 per cent of Remain voters in 2016 would now vote Leave and 7 per cent of Leave voters would support Remain.

About a third of respondents – 31 per cent – regard Brexit as a success, with the same proportion viewing it as a failure.

The divided views stem from years of political instability leading to Mr Johnson's resounding election victory in December 2019.

He succeeded former prime minister Theresa May, who resigned after failing to unite the ruling Conservative Party behind her Brexit deal with the EU.

Mrs May's woes started after a damaging strategic error in 2017 when she called a snap election to strengthen her negotiating position with the bloc.

But she ended up losing her majority in the House of Commons.

Her predecessor David Cameron resigned as prime minister hours after the referendum result was announced.

epa09272673 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, gestures during a joint news conference with Australian counterpart Scott Morrison, during their bilateral meeting in the garden of number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, 15 June 2021. The U.K. is set to announce the broad terms of a free-trade deal with Australia on 15 June, its latest post-Brexit accord as Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeks to expand commerce beyond the European Union.  EPA/Luke MacGregor / POOL
Boris Johnson was the face of the Vote Leave campaign for the referendum in 2016 before later becoming lPrie Minister. EPA 

Joao Vale de Almeida, the EU ambassador to the UK, said Brexit was "done, in a way, but not done, in another way".

"I think the worst way to respect Brexit is to keep fighting battles of the past and to keep trying to score points on disputes of the past," he told The Times.

Reflecting on the future of the UK and the EU, he said: “I don’t know what our relationship will be in 20 years’ time. I don’t know what the EU will be like in 20 years.

“And maybe I don’t know what your union here will be like in 20 years’ time. Who knows? So we have to be ready for change.”

The UK is facing several major issues linked to Brexit since the split.

In Northern Ireland, a dispute over the trading arrangement that effectively treats the province as part of the EU has threatened to collapse the power-sharing arrangement at Stormont.

Police also warned about the possibility of further violence in the province after numerous incidents in recent months.

In May, Britain's Royal Navy was sent to Jersey after French fishermen threatened a blockade in a dispute over fishing rights in waters off the British crown dependency.

Meanwhile, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – buoyed by election results in May – is pushing for a second independence referendum.

Lord Michael Heseltine, a former deputy prime minister and now the president of campaign group European Movement, said the situation was chaotic.

“Five years on, Brexit is far from ‘done’. It has only just begun and the forecast is ominous,” he said.

“Storm clouds are gathering on the horizon, chief among them the threat to the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland.”

The main opposition Labour Party also cited the unrest in Northern Ireland as among Mr Johnson’s most pressing issues.

“There is a direct line from the prime minister’s dishonesty over the deal he negotiated, to the instability we see in Northern Ireland today,” Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Louise Haigh said.

“The prime minister pledged never to put barriers down the Irish Sea and then a few months later did exactly that – this dishonesty is still having real consequences.”