JD Wetherspoon‘s Brexit-backing chairman has admitted the future success of Britain’s economy will rely on inward immigration which he said was a “good thing” for the country.
Tim Martin said he does not deny that immigration benefits the UK, but he was keen to see it come under domestic control and ensure it is “subject to the will of the people”.
“Immigration is a good thing but you don’t need to give your democracy away to get what you want,” he told the BBC’s Desert Island Discs programme. “You need a slightly rising population as the years go by to have a successful economy and a successful country.”
He said an Australian-style “points system” would still help make up for a low birth rate in Britain.
The pubs chain employs between 2,000 and 3,000 staff from other EU countries, reflecting the high number of foreign nationals that help run Britain’s bars and restaurants, which are expected to suffer if access to foreign workers is restricted as a result of Brexit.
The British Hospitality Association said earlier this autumn that around 700,000 of the hospitality sector’s 3.2 million workforce are from the EU.
Mr Martin last month issued half a million beer mats across Wetherspoon’s near-900 UK pubs featuring a bespoke “manifesto” for a successful Brexit, including the right of citizenship for legal EU migrants.
He told the BBC he was “pretty surprised” when he heard the result of the Brexit vote, having expected the Remain campaign to claim victory.
“I was asked to be on David Dimbleby‘s referendum show and I dipped out at the last minute because I thought we were going to lose, and I thought: ‘I’m not going to be there and saying yes, the best man won!”’
Mr Martin only got into the business after failing to warm to the idea of practising law, despite qualifying for the bar in the late 1970s.
“I worked for six months in a pork pie factory and then worked for six months selling advertising space in the Newcastle Journal in London. And I thought the law was bad but selling advertising space was worse so I went back and did my bar exams.”
But a “crippling” phobia of public speaking kept him from pursuing law, and despite dreams of becoming a champion squash player, he eventually fell into the pubs trade.
“Someone had converted a bookies into a pub just down the road and they said you should go there for a pint, it’s really good,” he said. “I started going there while I was doing my bar exams and the guy decided he wanted out and I took over his eight-year lease of a pub that was the size of your studio,” he told Desert Island Discs host Kirsty Young.
He admitted he “did everything wrong” and would have got out if it was not for the lease, but expanded to around three to four pubs before making a decent profit four years in.
The business was heavily indebted to “everyone” including the banks, but had a big advantage against other pubs that were tied to brewers.
“The real thing we pioneered was getting a shop and getting planning permission and a licence for a pub which people more or less thought was impossible on a big scale then.”
Mr Martin said he now visits at least 10 of his chain’s pubs per week, where he admits he does not push staff to smile or go out of their way to be nice, saying it puts too much pressure on them.
“Some of our best bar staff are quite grumpy.”