Michelin-star restaurant slammed after blaming Brexit for temporary closure

A head chef has bizarrely blamed the temporary closure of his Michelin-starred restaurant on Brexit, prompting calls for him to stop relying on cheap migrant labour and to pay Brits a proper wage.

Shaun Hill, the owner and head chef of The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny has shut his doors until 4 August, citing staff shortages for which he ultimately blames on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Although acknowledging the effects of the pandemic as a contributing factor, Mr Hill said that his staffing issues “boil back to Brexit – because about 40% of the people who worked in restaurants were from Europe… and they have tended to go home because they haven’t felt terribly welcome.”

“That means the pool of people restaurants like mine are drawing from has shrunk at the same time as new people are feeling the strain.

“We’re not the only trade or industry to rely on a big chunk of people coming in to do the work.

“The idea that suddenly there was a whole horde of British people anxious to pick fruit or work 12 hour days in a restaurant – we, who have restaurants, knew it was daft but there wasn’t anything we could do about it.”

His comments about EU citizens leaving Brexit Britain run contradictory to the government’s EU Settlement Scheme statistics released this month, which revealed that an eye-watering 6.02 million EU nationals had applied for settlement status in the UK, with just 4 per cent of the 5.45 million concluded applications having been rejected.

Mr Hill’s decision to blame Brexit has drawn criticism, not least from the Home Office who suggested that companies such as his begin to invest in a domestic workforce.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “British people repeatedly voted to end free movement and take back control of our immigration system” and the government said that is what they had delivered.

“Companies need to invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on cheap labour from abroad. This is the most effective way to ensure we have a thriving economy.”

Mr Hill’s comments also led to criticism of his perceived recruitment method on social media, with one user commenting: “Ahh bless…Rich chef cant recruit cheap foreign Labour….Pay a living wage.”

“Odd as nearly 6 million EU citizens registered here to enjoy identical rights to us. That’s right when Govt claimed there were “only” 3m in UK,” added another.

Mr Hill did at least see the bigger Brexit picture, moaning that in the long-term the restaurant trade is “going to have to pay everybody a lot more”. Not that he sounds too happy about it…