Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin has proved the trade’s most vocal proponent of Britain leaving the European Union, arguing the EU is undemocratic, has a damaging impact on trade and accusing Prime Minister David Cameron of achieving only ‘token’ changes. Martin also criticised the Government’s response to the debate, arguing it had resorted to ‘ludicrous scare stories’ in a bid to scare voters. Risk Capital Partners’ and serial entrepreneur Luke Johnson, who is the chairman of both the Draft House pub group and bar chain Grand Union, has also argued strongly for leaving. Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Johnson labelled the EU ‘a job destruction machine’, pointing to higher levels of unemployment in many EU countries and saying Britain will be ‘very successful and viable’ outside of the EU.
So far, pub companies and trade bodies (including the ALMR and the BBPA) have remained neutral on Brexit, although Greene King chief executive Rooney Anand was among 200 business leaders who signed a letter to The Times calling for Britain to stay. Marston’s chief executive Ralph Findlay has said ‘Brexit doesn’t seem to matter’ when it comes to consumer spending and confidence.
The potential impact on recruitment - already a serious challenge facing the sector - has been one of the big concerns for operators. Founder of Banwell House Pub Company Toby Brett has previously told the PMA he fears Brexit could result in staffing shortages, arguing the industry relies on migrant workers. Brett also said he was worried leaving could damage tourism, although he did say he could see some potential benefits, including reduced red tape around allergens, working time, employment and health and safety. His fears were echoed by City Pub Company chairman Clive Watson, who said: “We have staff from France, Spain and Holland. They bring culture into business. People come to Britain to work because it is a good place - the fact we attract them shows that there must be something good about our country.” He added he worried that the price of food and drink could go up if the public does vote to leave.
Spirit producers are also among those calling for Britain to stay, arguing the single market is vital for exports. Licensing lawyer Robert Sutherland told the PMA: “Wine and Spirit Trade Association members are overwhelmingly in support of staying in the EU. Most members are small to medium-sized businesses and they see the benefits of the single market where most of their exports go; and also for exports to other countries outside of the EU but based on EU trade agreements.”