Tim Martin, chairman at national pub chain JD Wetherspoon, has waded into the ‘in or out' EU debate, arguing that an ‘out' vote need not threaten recruitment in the hospitality industry.
A recent survey by The Catererrevealed that nearly two-thirds of hospitality businesses would prefer to stay in Europe, with 56% of them fearing that the biggest impact of leaving would be "reduced staff availability".
But, in an article to be published in the 2 March edition of Wetherspoon News, Martin posits that it would still be possible to maintain strong business links, including free trade and free movement of labour: "Norway and Switzerland, for example, two of the richest and most successful countries in the world, are not in the EU, but EU countries have an open trading relationship with them, and citizens from both of those countries can live and work in the UK, needing only a passport or identity card," he says.
While conceding that the UK has been a "big beneficiary" of the migration of large numbers of EU citizens, Martin says he believes the decisions regarding migration should be made by elected parliaments in each country.
Although immigration is a prime concern for hospitality operators in the EU debate, only a handful from the sector were among the 197 UK business leaders to sign an open letter published in The Times on Tuesday calling for Britain to remain in the EU.
In one excerpt it stated: "Business needs unrestricted access to the European market of 500 million people in order to continue to grow, invest and create jobs. We believe that leaving the EU would deter investment and threaten jobs. It would put the economy at risk."
Among signatories to the letter from the hospitality sector were Tony Fernandes, founder of budget hotel firm Tune Group; Lady Ruth Rogers, owner of the River Café; Ashley Govier, managing director of cleaning firm Hotel Services Group; and John Harries, proprietor of the Three Horseshoes Inn in Brecon, Powys. Paul Walsh, chief executive of foodservice firm Compass Group, signed in a personal capacity.
The British Hospitality Association, meanwhile, has remained circumspect. In a statement to The Caterer, chief executive Ufi Ibrahim said: "Hospitality and tourism is an industry which encourages people to transcend borders. Our members range from hotels, serviced apartments and aparthotels, leisure establishments, attractions and clubs to pubs, restaurants and foodservice and they all offer a wide spectrum of viewpoints on EU membership. The BHA has a duty to ensure all our members' interests are represented whatever the outcome of the referendum and what we all have in common is the desire for economic strength and certainty."
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