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Brexit-backing Wetherspoons boss to be knighted in New Year Honours

The outspoken founder and boss of Wetherspoons has been nominated for services to business, according to reports

Archie Mitchell
Thursday 28 December 2023 09:11 GMT
Tim Martin sends video message to staff encouraging them to work for Tesco

Brexit-backing pub tycoon Tim Martin is in line for a knighthood in the King’s New Year Honours.

The outspoken founder and boss of Wetherspoons has been nominated for services to business, according to reports.

Mr Martin grew the chain from a single pub in Muswell Hill, north London, in 1979 to one of the country’s biggest pub firms with 875 sites around the UK.

He was also one of the most high profile supporters of Brexit and was regularly seen campaigning to leave the EU alongside Boris Johnson.

Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin was regularly seen campaigning for Brexit (PA Archive)

Business secretary Kemi Badenoch pushed for his candidacy behind the scenes, the Daily Mail reported, arguing that it is wrong for successful entrepreneurs to be overlooked by the establishment because they supported Brexit.

And high profile Brexiteers welcomed the news, with Nigel Farage hailing Mr Martin a “Brexit legend” and Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg saying he was “delighted”.

Mr Martin backed a hard-line approach to Brexit, supporting a no-deal option amid the tense negotiations during 2019. He argued that the EU was growing less democratic in pursuit of “ever-closer union” and thereby stifling economic growth. And Mr Martin said the economic impacts of Brexit were worthwhile trade-offs for greater democracy in the UK.

Asked in June whether he had regrets about the referendum, Mr Martin told LBC: "Have I regrets? No, I think, for humanity to survive, I think we need democracy. We need democracy in China.

“We need democracy in Russia, especially in the nuclear age - and my bone to pick with the EU is you don’t elect the president by universal suffrage and MEPs can’t initiate legislation and the ECJ, the court, isn’t accountable to Parliament.”

Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin called Boris Johnson a ‘winner’ when he ran in the Conservative leadership race (Henry Nicholls/PA) (PA Archive)

Mr Martin made headlines when he pledged to reduce the price of alcohol in his pubs to an “unbelievably low” price if Mr Johnson successfully managed to leave the EU by October 2019.

But he has also sparked controversy, including by acknowledging that company employees might prefer to work at supermarkets whilst their pubs were shut amid uncertainty over their futures due to the coronavirus pandemic. He said the firm had received lots of calls from supermarkets, and said Tesco alone was hiring 20,000 people.

In the early days of Covid-19, Mr Martin did not reassure staff that the company would be in a position to pay employees who were now not working after pubs in the UK were closed to stop the spread of the virus.

Instead he said that supermarkets were hiring – and wished his workers good luck.

“I know that all our trade now has gone to supermarkets,” he says in the recording posted on YouTube. “Not only our trade, but the trade from cafés, leisure centres, restaurants, etcetera.

"So we have had lots of calls from supermarkets – Tesco alone want 20,000 people to join them. That’s half the amount of people who work in our pubs."

Update: This article was amended on 10 January 2024. It previously said that Mr Martin had suggested his 40,000 staff should go to work at Tesco amid pandemic uncertainty, but this was inaccurate. In fact, Mr Martin had said that if staff were offered a job in a supermarket, he would understand if they wanted to take it. Wetherspoon has also asked that we clarify that all its staff were paid by Wetherspoon up until the point of pub closures, after which staff received furlough pay on an uninterrupted basis without any delay to payment. We are happy to do so.

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