A ‘NASTY’ post-Brexit referendum atmosphere has seen a mass exodus of EU workers and led to a ‘tragic’ situation for the city’s hospitality industry.

A number of Oxford hospitality businesses have told the Oxford Mail they are struggling to fill vacancies as EU nationals have left in droves following the referendum.

French restaurant Pierre Victoire bistro in Little Clarendon Street, Oxford, has built a successful reputation of delivering a truly Parisian experience. Claire Harvey, who co-owns the restaurant, attributes its success largely to significant numbers of experienced French chefs who work there.

But nearly three years after the Brexit referendum, she describes her business model as ‘increasingly difficult to sustain’ because of plummeting numbers of French chefs and other restaurant staff in Oxford.

She said: “They are clearly feeling not welcomed here anymore, this nasty atmosphere is getting to them. Not only French, Spanish and Italians stopped coming, but they are also leaving.

“My employees come to me, seeking advice and asking what to do. It is unbelievably frustrating, when you have absolutely no idea what to tell them, no way of assuring them”.

The other issue Mrs Harvey is worried about is the import of French produce needed to maintain the quality of her services.

“We import French duck, because genuinely French cuisine requires a different kind of duck. Our cured meats are from France. The wine ist is almost entirely, 90 per cent French.

“Our suppliers assure me that they are prepared for at least first weeks, but from my perspective Brexit means supply problems and rising prices, absolutely”.

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Outside of the city, restaurateurs say their struggle is even greater.

Kuba Winkowski, head chef at The Feathered Nest in Nether Westcote and was recently named National Chief of the Year. He describes the industry’s workforce situation as‘tragic, simply tragic’.

He said: “When it comes to chefs and other kitchen staff, I’m probably quite privileged now, as the noise around me made people want to work here and learn from me. But employing front staff is nearly impossible. There are simply no people you can employ”.

A manageress at a large hotel and restaurant in Oxfordshire agreed to speak ‘honestly, but anonymously, due to political differences with the owners of this fine establishment’.

She said: “In first three months after the referendum we lost nearly a quarter of our staff, half of EU nationals employed here. I had waitresses crying because they are being asked ‘isn’t it time for you to go where you came from’. On top of my list is sign ‘Clean this and go back East!’, written with a lipstick on a mirror. I had washed it off myself, I didn’t want cleaning ladies to see it. It was so pointlessly mean.

“Some people were behaving utterly beyond anything I’d conceive possible. It has stopped now, I think people are coming back to their senses, but the damage is done, even with Brexit cancelled by some miracle it will take us decades to rebuild the reputation of a welcoming nation”.

She adds that given a chance she’d hire a dozen of employees ‘on the spot’.

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According to ONS, in 2018 Oxford’s unemployment rate was at 3.4 per cent, well below the national average of 4.1. Oxford and Cambrige were also recently named ‘the best places in the UK to get a job’, with average advertised salaries at around £36,000 and 5000 vacancies - 25 times more than jobseekers.

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