Claims that a “no deal” Brexit would send the UK over a “cliff edge” and lead to higher food prices are “factually incorrect and highly misleading”, JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has asserted this morning, as he cheered a strong increase in like-for-like sales at his pub firm.
A departure from the EU without a trade deal would actually result in a reduction in the average cost of a meal by about 3.5 pence and the cost of a drink by 0.5 pence, according to calculations by the firm, which has just under 1,000 pubs across the country.
Martin’s comments came as Wetherspoon reported a 6.1% rise in like-for-like sales for the first quarter of its 2018 financial year (13 weeks to 29 October 2017), with total sales increasing by 4.3%.
The company has opened two new pubs since the start of the year and sold six. It intends to open between 10 and 15 in the current financial year.
Martin, one of the most prominent supporters of Brexit in the hospitality industry, once again took the opportunity to air his views on the manner of the UK’s exit from the European Union.
He said: “A key issue for investors and the public is the impact of Brexit on the economy. In this connection, statements have been made by some senior PLC directors and trade organisations which are factually incorrect and highly misleading. Unsurprisingly, the misinformation has been adopted by many among the media, investors and the public, as if it were true.
“For example, the chairman of Sainsbury’s, David Tyler, was recently quoted in The Sunday Times in an article headed “Sainsbury’s warns of ‘no deal’ Brexit cost”. The clear implication of the chairman’s words and the conclusion of the article were that a deal with the EU was necessary to avoid higher food prices.
“In fact, that is completely untrue. The lowest food prices can be obtained by the UK, without the need for the agreement or consent of any third party, by avoiding a ‘transitional deal’, which would keep EU tariffs in place, and leaving the EU in March 2019. This would enable the UK to scrap EU food tariffs, as permitted under World Trade Organisation rules, on food imported from outside the EU. Under WTO rules, tariffs would not then be charged on imports from the EU either.
“Wetherspoon calculates that this approach would reduce the average cost of a meal by about 3.5 pence and the cost of a drink by 0.5 pence.”
Martin also took aim at Richard Baker, chairman of Whitbread, who on behalf of the British Retail Consortium and alongside the head of the CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn, created what Martin saw as a “similarly misleading impression” in an article in the London Evening Standard.
“This sort of misinformation has also resulted in articles such as the one in The Guardian and the Financial Times, in which the writers wrongly assume that reversion to WTO rules, on leaving the EU without a deal, would axiomatically result in the imposition of tariffs. It is not true, for example, as the Financial Times states, that tariffs of “13% on salmon, 14% on wine, 40% on cheese and 59% on beef… must apply to all countries outside the customs union, unless a free-trade agreement is in place.”
“The misinformation from directors and trade organisations seems to be designed to support the view that staying in the EU for an additional two years is necessary to avoid a ‘cliff edge’. There is no cliff edge. Wetherspoon, for example, is ready now to leave the EU, since almost no preparation is required – as is almost certainly the case for Sainsbury’s and Whitbread, and the vast majority of companies,” Martin added.
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