Wetherspoon backing for Brexit

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The founder of p​ub giant JD Wetherspoon ​has ​come out in favour of Britain leaving the EU saying that a Brexit would restore democracy to decision-making in the UK.

​The pub’s chairman Tim Martin said: “My key feeling on a Brexit is that democracy is the key issue. When people sit back and think about it, they will see what the EU has become compared to the first ideas for the common market.

“The EU is non-democratic in so many ways. I am more in favour of decision-making by a national parliament, so that has to make me in favour of Brexit.”

A spokesman confirmed that the firm employs a “decent number of staff from overseas including the EU”, but was unable to provide any breakdown.

Mr Martin added that “the UK has been a big beneficiary of the migration of large numbers of Europeans to this country”.

​​He made the comments as the group said staff pay rises ahead of the national living wage knocked ​half-year ​profits​.

​The firm, which​ ​has 70 pubs​ ​in Yorkshire​, said pre-tax profits ​fell four per cent​ to £36​m in the 26 weeks to January 24 after two recent pay increases.

Wetherspoon ​will open a new pub, The Cross Keys in Beverley,​ ​in​ April ​and has identified sites in Sheffield, Leeds, Garforth, Holmfirth, Normanton, York and Headingley.

​Mr Martin said the firm​ is looking for more sites in the region​.​

“Yorkshire is a key area for us and we are keen to find new sites in the region,” said Mr Martin

“Our Yorkshire pubs have performed strongly over the period and we look forward to opening up in Beverley next month.”

Wetherspoon said it gave its employees a pay increase in October 2014 and last July, amounting to a 13 per cent overall wage rise. The business employs 37,000 staff.

The move was ahead of the Government’s introduction of the national living wage next month, which will lift minimum hourly pay to £7.20 for over 25s, from its current level of £6.50, and to at least £9 an hour by 2020.

The pub chain said like-for-like sales rose 2.9 per cent over the half year and it has seen some improvement since then with like-for-like sales up 3.7 per cent in the six weeks to March 6.

“Sales comparisons in the second half of the financial year will be slightly more favourable, although further wage increases are due in April,” said Mr Martin.

“The pub and restaurant market is highly competitive, but we are aiming for a reasonable outcome for the financial year.”

Mr Martin cautioned Chancellor George Osborne against raising taxes in the pub industry ahead of next week’s Budget.

The array of taxes Wetherspoon pays includes VAT, alcohol duty, corporation tax, gaming machine duty, landfill tax and a climate change levy.

“There is a growing realisation among politicians, the media and the public that pubs are overtaxed and that a level tax playing field will create more jobs and taxes for the country,” he said.

Analyst Alex Paterson at Investec said: “Trading in the last six weeks has accelerated, with like-for-like sales growth of 3.7 per cent. This is encouraging and testament to the company’s investment in staff and focus on high standards.

“Recent moves to cease offering Sunday roasts are due to the company not being able to guarantee the high level of quality that underlines its offering and, in an increasingly competitive market for eating out, we believe that offering compelling value, both high quality and attractive price points, is the right strategy.”