Wetherspoon boss' Brexit diatribe: Tim Martin accuses CBI chief of "foolhardy advice"

 
Emma Haslett
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"Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough": Martin has been outspoken on the subject of Brexit (Source: Getty)

The outspoken boss of JD Wetherspoon has used its results to hit out at the chief of one of the UK's largest business organisations in an extraordinary rant about Brexit, as he warned of higher costs to come.

In its first quarter results today, Tim Martin accused CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn of giving "foolhardy advice" to the government over Brexit.

"[She] has recently said that 'leaving the negotiating table without a deal shouldn't be Plan B, but Plan Z'. It is doubtful if Ms Fairbairn has ever been involved in serious business negotiations herself, since this is the same as a housebuyer saying to a seller, 'I must have your house at any cost'," he said.

"In this case the buyer will not pay the market price, but will pay the maximum that the seller believes he can afford."

He went on to insist UK businesses must be prepared for a hard Brexit: "As many people have said, including many remain supporters, it is essential to adopt an approach that stresses the UK's willingness to trade on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms, possibly abolishing import tariffs unilaterally, which would lead to substantial reductions in consumer prices- and increased living standards."

It's not the first time Martin has hit out at businesses and politicians over Brexit. Back in November he criticised a "cabal of politicians and elite groups... fighting to overturn the decision".

Read more: Here's what Tim Martin meant by his "Budget for dinner parties" statement

Martin's comments came as the pub chain posted a trading update showing like-for-like sales increased four per cent in the 13 weeks to 23 April, with year-to-date like-for-likes up 3.5 per cent and operating margin rising to 7.3 per cent, from 6.4 per cent in the same 13 weeks last year.

The company said it had opened nine pubs and sold 36 since the start of the financial year, as well as closing three. It said it expected £16m of exceptional losses this year thanks to its disposal programme.

Martin also repeated a warning he made last month, when he hinted at higher costs to come. Today he said those costs will be "significantly higher... mainly for business rates, utility taxes, excise duty and labour.

"In view of these costs and stronger sales comparisons, the company remains cautious about the second half of the year.

Investors, though, seemed unfazed: shares rose 1.9 per cent to 1,029p in early trading.

Read more: Tim Martin is slashing prices by 7.5 per cent at all Wetherspoon's pubs

Bonkers for Brexit: Martin's statement in full

"A number of individuals and organisations, which previously supported UK membership of the euro and its disastrous predecessor the ERM, and who recently promoted the erroneous view of a severe economic downturn in the immediate aftermath of a leave vote in the referendum, are again offering the government advice.

"For example, Carolyn Fairbairn of the CBI has recently said that 'leaving the negotiating table without a deal shouldn't be Plan B, but Plan Z'. It is doubtful if Ms Fairbairn has ever been involved in serious business negotiations herself, since this is the same as a housebuyer saying to a seller, 'I must have your house at any cost'. In this case the buyer will not pay the market price, but will pay the maximum that the seller believes he can afford.

"It is hard to believe that such foolhardy advice could emanate from a business organisation.

"As many people have said, including many remain supporters, it is essential to adopt an approach that stresses the UK's willingness to trade on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms, possibly abolishing import tariffs unilaterally, which would lead to substantial reductions in consumer prices- and increased living standards.

"The current desperation of the CBI and others for a 'deal' is only encouraging the absurd posturing of the unelected 'President' Juncker and his acolytes, and creates an absurdly pessimistic picture of the UK's position if a sensible deal is not forthcoming.

"As EU businesses know, they will suffer acutely if UK companies and consumers switch their allegiance to domestic or other non-EU suppliers. The CBI should let those businesses make the case for a free trade deal, rather than undermining the government's negotiating position.

"As previously reported, the company expects significantly higher costs in the second half of the financial year, mainly for business rates, utility taxes, excise duty and labour. In view of these costs and stronger sales comparisons, the company remains cautious about the second half of the year.

"Nevertheless, as a result of better-than-expected year-to-date sales, we currently anticipate a slightly improved trading outcome for the current financial year, compared with our expectations at the last update.

"As a result of these higher costs the company anticipates it will require like-for-like sales of about three to four per cent in our next financial year to maintain profits at current levels."

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