Le Gavroche's closure: a case study in Brexit avoidance syndrome

Le Gavroche’s closure – a case study in Brexit avoidance syndrome


Brexit coverage has remained off the menu, even as the hospitality industry is crumbling under post-Brexit business realities.

The food at Le Gavroche is not to everyone’s taste — even before you get to the bill. It is one of the last bastions of classic French haute cuisine in London and is more than a bit too traditional and too rich for some.

But there is no denying the achievement of the Roux brothers, who opened the restaurant in 1967 when the UK was largely a culinary desert, and of Michel Roux, who has run it for the last 34 years and holds two Michelin stars.

When Le Gavroche closes early next year it will be the end of an era not just for Roux but also for famous chefs who trained there such as Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White.

Roux will also leave behind a tasty if divisive recipe for how the British media is covering — or rather not covering or seriously underplaying — the problems created by Brexit.

Avoiding mention of the B-word

As has been extensively covered, the 63-year-old Roux was “genuinely tired” because of the daily strains of running a two-Michelin-starred restaurant and wanted to have a better work-life balance and spend more time with his family.

All of that is genuinely true, but the stress was undoubtedly added to by the difficulties of running a top restaurant in the time of Brexit and may have been, at the very least, a contributory factor in the closure decision.

Roux told The Times in an interview that the day-to-day pressure of running a restaurant is not getting any easier. Living through, and coming back from, the pandemic did not do his mental health any good, Roux explained.

He then said: “I feel for any young independent restaurateur opening up now. Brexit has put a huge spanner in the works in terms of supplies, staffing and costs.”

Earlier in the summer Roux had told The Guardian how he had felt anger and sadness at the existential struggles faced by the restaurant industry in the wake of Brexit. “It’s hard to avoid the B-word — Brexit — when you look at the situation today,” said Roux.

He had been unable to restart a lunch service after the pandemic because of staff shortages. Chefs and waiters returned to Europe during the pandemic and did not come back.

Getting a work permit now costs £5,000 for starters. “That’s bonkers,” said Roux. With freedom of movement, Roux believes he would be able to fill his 15 vacancies “probably within a week.”

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But the Le Gavroche owner is most annoyed about the loss of easy cross-channel fertilisation for young British chefs and waiters.

“What has really upset me is that a whole generation of British talent can no longer go to Europe and knock on a door and pick up a job,” he told The Guardian.

Unfortunately, newspapers such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph went with solely the better life-work balance dish unseasoned by any of the Brexit background.

Any reference to Brexit was off the menu on the Today programme’s coverage of the Le Gavroche closure, feeding the suspicions of many that the BBC will perform cartwheels to avoid any mention of the negative impact of Brexit.

On Sunday morning on Broadcasting House, Paddy O’Connell took the genre to embarrassingly ridiculous heights. In an interview with Roux, O’Connell burbled on about soufflés and how sad the closure was without even asking why the restaurant was closing after 56 years.

That’s one way of avoiding the danger of any mention of Brexit.

Mounting evidence

If restaurants are in trouble, and many are, the craft beer industry is similarly challenged with more than 100 small breweries either closing or being gobbled up by rivals.

Of course, as with most failing businesses, there are multiple causes ranging from the pandemic to the cost-of-living crisis and then in the case of craft beers — which tend to be stronger than average beers — changes to duty now linked to alcohol strength.

For the owners of the Hull-based Bone Machine brewing company, the key to closure was Brexit. “It just got too much — Brexit,” founder Kimi Karjalain told The Guardian.

“We were heavily geared for export. We’d be selling to Finland, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain. We had Hungary in the pipeline and it all disappeared with Brexit,” the brewer explained.

The expensive and time-consuming paperwork put buyers off.

The Guardian reported such a story, and there are many other Brexit impact stories to be found, but not necessarily in the papers which originally promoted Brexit and are now grimly hanging on to the faith despite the mounting evidence to the contrary.

Likewise, you do not see much prominence given to the polls that show week after week that the proportion of the population who believe that the UK should rejoin the European Union is gradually rising.

The latest YouGov poll shows that 64% now believe we should rejoin, with every nation and region of Britain showing a majority for reversing Brexit — with London in the vanguard on 74%.

Percentages for those who believe that the UK is poorer outside of the EU go as high as 88%.

Are concessions coming?

What happens if the percentage of rejoiners keeps creeping up? If the rejoin majority hits 70% and keeps rising, at what point will the Brexit press and the leaders of the UK’s two main political parties have to pay attention?

There are signs that pennies are starting to drop even among the most obtuse. The recent comment piece in the Daily Telegraph suggesting that those under the age of 50 would be well advised to get out of the country is one small sign.

But as many have pointed out, the kind of Brexit that The Telegraph campaigned for has severely limited the number of destinations available to those who would now seek to take its advice.

Another is the second coming of Times columnist Philip Collins who was sacked in 2020 for being “too left-wing.”

Now The Times has obviously read the runes and decided it may be in urgent need of a left-of centre voice even though the first new Collins column decries the lack of intellectual rigour at the heart of Labour.

We will know that something fundamental has shifted politically when David Aaronovitch is also invited back to The Times fold.

Clearly The Times is expecting a period in opposition; the paper might also invite Michel Roux to write the odd piece or two about the quagmire that is Brexit and the damage it is doing to the hospitality industry.

Raymond Snoddy is a media consultant, national newspaper columnist and former presenter of NewsWatch on BBC News. He writes for The Media Leader on Wednesdays — read his column here.

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