Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin calls for more EU migration to help staff bars

2 June 2021, 01:08 | Updated: 9 June 2021, 05:46

Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin is urging Boris Johnson to create an EU workers visa
Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin is urging Boris Johnson to create an EU workers visa. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin has called for more EU migration to help tackle the shortage of bar staff working in the UK.

The pro-Brexit multimillionaire urged Boris Johnson to introduce a "reasonably liberal immigration system" controlled by Britain rather than the European Union.

He recommended the prime minister adopt a visa scheme for workers from the bloc to help the country's pubs and restaurants hire more staff as they recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Martin, who was a vocal supporter of the UK's departure from the EU, also suggested that countries geographically closer to the UK could be prioritised for the programme.

He told the Daily Telegraph: "The UK has a low birth rate. A reasonably liberal immigration system controlled by those we have elected, as distinct from the EU system, would be a plus for the economy and the country.

“America, Australia and Singapore have benefitted for many decades from this approach. Immigration combined with democracy works."

Read more: Wetherspoons boss says pubs are 'on their knees' and need to reopen

Read more: Wetherspoons invests £145m in new pubs and upgrades creating 2,000 jobs

It comes amid reports of a looming staffing crisis in the sector which has forced pub and restaurant owners to close up over the crucial lunchtime period.

Mr Martin's comments provoked a bewildered reaction on social media.

Pro-EU campaigner Femi Oluwole wrote: "I really hope Tim Martin never runs into Tim Martin. He's gonna be so angry!"

Labour councillor Freddie Bailey, of Preston City Council, said: "Pro-Brexit Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin has called for more EU migration to tackle the worker shortage.

"Do I really need to say anything?"

Read more: Calls for Wetherspoon boycott as boss tells staff to 'work at Tesco'

Read more: Wetherspoons chalked up loss while pubs were closed

The Wetherspoons boss faced a backlash at the start of the pandemic for releasing a video message to staff in March telling them to "go work at Tesco" as he warned their pay will likely be delayed until April 2020.

In the footage, he explained that his company would be relying on a government grant to pay workers until ministers delivered on their promise to pay 80 per cent of worker's wages via the furlough scheme.

However, he did say that if people had worked for the company before then they would be guaranteed to be given first preference if they chose to return.

In March 2021, the chain announced it was investing £145 million in new pubs and upgrades in a bid to create 2,000 more jobs.

The month before, with pubs closed, Mr Martin urged the government to allow them to reopen at the same time as non-essential retail "to save jobs".

He said that pubs were "on their knees" and need to be allowed to welcome back punters to help the economy.

JD Wetherspoon was founded by Mr Martin in 1979 and sells low-priced ales, breakfasts, lunches and dinner.

It currently runs 871 pubs in the UK and Ireland but has seen the number of workers drop over the past year by around 6,000 to almost 38,000.

The boss was one of the most prominent British business voices for leaving the EU ahead of the referendum.

A visa system would make it easier for pubs and restaurants to hire workers from the bloc, with post-Brexit rules making it more difficult for workers in lower-skilled roles to settle in the country.

According to recruitment website Caterer.com, roughly one in 10 hospitality workers have left the sector over the past 12 months, while the industry's trade body, UK Hospitality, estimated a shortfall of about 188,000 workers due to successive lockdowns.