The boss of JD Wetherspoon has called on the prime minister to introduce a visa scheme for European Union workers as British pubs and restaurants struggle to recruit staff in the post-pandemic labour market squeeze.
Tim Martin, a vocal Brexiteer, said Boris Johnson should introduce a visa system to reduce the pressures on companies, suggesting that countries geographically closer to the UK could be given preferential treatment.
Pub and restaurant bosses have said they were being forced to shut sites during the crucial lunchtime trade because of a shortage of workers.
Martin, 66, told the Daily Telegraph: “The UK has a low birth rate. A reasonably liberal immigration system controlled by those we have elected, as distinct from the EU system, would be a plus for the economy and the country.
“America, Australia and Singapore have benefited for many decades from this approach. Immigration combined with democracy works.”
Wetherspoon, founded by Martin in 1979, sells cheap ales, breakfasts, lunches and dinners. It had 44 pubs in 1992 at its flotation and today has 871 in the UK and Ireland. Over the past 12 months it has reduced the number of staff by about 6,000 to almost 38,000.
Martin has been a prominent business critic of the EU and campaigned for Britain to leave the single market before the Brexit referendum.
A visa system would make it easier for pubs and restaurants to hire workers from the EU, with post-Brexit rules making it more difficult for workers in lower-skilled roles to settle in the UK.
About one hospitality worker in ten has left the sector over the past year, according to Caterer.com, the recruitment website. UK Hospitality, the trade body, has estimated that there is a shortfall of about 188,000 workers, blaming the exodus on successive lockdowns imposed by the government.