Pubs boss in tirade against Remainers

Wetherspoon boss says UK ‘does not need EU deal’

The Booking Office, Edinburgh, a Wetherspoon pub
The Booking Office, Edinburgh, a Wetherspoon pub

Pubs group boss Tim Martin has taken a swipe at a range of individuals and institutions in the EU Remain camp for predicting trouble if Britain voted to withdraw.

The J D Wetherspoon chairman used the group’s annual results statement to list those who forecast a downturn and said it was not necessary for Britain to have a trade deal with the EU.

His commentary ran to 1,100 words most of which were directed at the Remain campaign.

Much of his criticism was directed at economists.  Mr Martin, who actively campaigned for a Leave vote, said: “The overwhelming economic evidence is that successful countries are democracies,” adding that “economists really do need to stick that point in their pipes and smoke it.”

He said: “In the run up to, and the aftermath of, the recent referendum, the overwhelming majority of FTSE 100 companies, the employers’ organisation CBI, the IMF, the OECD, the Treasury, the leaders of all the main political parties and almost all representatives of British universities forecast trouble, often in lurid terms, for the economy, in the event of the Leave vote.

“For example, claims were made by David Cameron and George Osborne that family income would eventually be reduced by £4,000 per annum, that mortgage interest rates would increase and that house prices would fall – claims which were supported, in terms, by Mark Carney of the Bank of England.   

“City voices such as PwC and Goldman Sachs, and the great preponderance of banks and other institutions, also leant weight to this negative view.”

He dismissed suggestions that Britain needs to reach a trade deal with the EU.

“Now that the gloomy economic forecasts for the immediate aftermath of the referendum have been proven to be false, ‘Scare Story 2’ is that failure to agree on trade deal with the EU will have devastating consequences,” he said.

“Wetherspoon’s experience indicates that reaching formal trade deals with reluctant counterparties is impossible – and it is unwise to try.

“Over the years, we have agreed on thousands of ‘trade deals’ with big and small suppliers: some are formal contracts, some are ‘hand-shakes’, some are short term, but many last for decades. The commercial reality is that you can lead the horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

“This is especially true of the EU – an organisation of Byzantine complexity, run by five unelected presidents, with input from numerous other parts of the many-headed Hydra. It has struggled to reach trade deals with most of the world’s major economies, for example, the USA, China and India.

“The UK is an enormous trading partner of the USA, generating a substantial surplus for us, in spite of the absence of a ‘deal’ and it would be unwise to clamour after a specific formal agreement to replace existing arrangements in these circumstances – the back of the queue is a good place to be.

“Former Chancellor Nigel Lawson (Financial Times, 3/4 September) and many others advocate leaving the EU and trading afterwards with it on the basis of World Trade Organisation rules. If the EU is keen for a trade deal, we should cooperate, but unelected apparatchiks like President Juncker can’t be controlled – which is one of the main reasons we voted to leave. 

“Common sense … suggests that the worst approach for the UK is to insist on the necessity of a ‘deal’ – we don’t need one and the fact that EU countries sell us twice as much as we sell them creates a hugely powerful negotiating position.

“If WTO tariffs apply, the UK will receive twice as much as it pays. Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox will achieve far more for the UK by copying Francis Drake and playing bowls in Plymouth, rather than hankering after an EU agreement, although time spent in improving arrangements with Singapore, New Zealand and India, for example, may be well spent.”

Annual figures

The company reported 3.4% growth in like-for-like sales over its last financial year, with pre-tax profit after exceptional items rising 12.5% to £66m.

Operating profits fell 2.5% in the 12 months to 24 July to just short of £110m as the company was hit by increased staff costs, rising utility bills and a jump in depreciation.

Property gains provided a £5m ‘below the line’ boost to the 2016 figures, which meant pre-tax profits grew by 3.6%.

It is proposed that the dividend is maintained at 12p, representing a 1.3% yield.

The current year has started reasonably well, said the company, with an ‘encouraging’ 4.1% increase in revenues.

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