Trade bodies have tentatively welcomed indications from the prime minister that EU workers may be able to remain in the UK following Brexit.
Theresa May used her Brexit speech yesterday to confirm the UK will leave the single market, which allows the free movement of goods and people within the Union.
However, in discussing plans for the 'control' of immigration rights for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, she said: 'This agreement should allow for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU's member states.
'It should give British companies the maximum possible freedom to trade with and operate within European markets and let European businesses do the same in Britain. But I want to be clear: what I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market.'
May said she intends to regain control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe by ending freedom of movement rules. However, she said the government aims to secure a deal as soon as possible on the rights of EU nationals already living in the UK to remain, in exchange for the rights of UK citizens currently living on the continent to also remain.
The hospitality industry in the UK relies heavily on labour from outside the country. Research from employment consultancy People 1st estimated in August 2014 that migrants make up some 26% of the UK hospitality workforce, rising to 69% in London.
Brigid Simmonds, British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) chief executive, said: 'It will come as a relief to many working in our industry that, in leaving the EU, Britain will look to ensure that those already working in the UK have the right to remain here.
'It is important that British firms, particularly in the beer and pub sector, can continue to seek international talent for soft skills shortages, including non-graduates, in the UK, and we await further details of how any new work permit system might work.'
Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association (BHA), has meanwhile called for the government to consider a 10-year implementation period.
'The BHA has already called for a 10-year timescale to provide employers and British society more time to adapt, considering that the industry employs well over 700,000 EU workers,' she said.
'In the meantime, it is crucial for the hospitality and tourism industry – the UK's fourth largest sector – that EU migrants continue to be welcomed into our country. Without EU workers our industry will be unable to welcome visitors from home and abroad and keep the UK going.'