Wetherspoon's Tim Martin attacks coronavirus 'lockdown'
JD Wetherspoon Chairman Tim Martin has criticised the government's measures to limit the spread of coronavirus after the tougher guidance hit his company's share price.
Martin said the government had made an error by telling people not to go to pubs or restaurants. He said Prime Minister Boris Johnson should have stuck to his plan to build "herd immunity", which suits the UK's "robust instincts".
He issued his statement after the company's shares lost a fifth of their value in morning trading after Johnson issued his guidance. At 12:09 GMT Wetherspoon shares had edged back slightly to 596.5p but were still down 16%.
Wetherspoon's maverick founder said the prime minister should copy the Netherlands' approach, which accepts that most people will get the virus. A "lockdown" of activity for 12 weeks will result in a further outbreak of infections in July, he said, citing comments from a professor at Imperial College London.
"The Dutch approach has the additional advantage of being in tune with the robust instincts of the nation," Martin said on Tuesday. "This is evidenced by Wetherspoon sales which have been positive in the last few weeks in spite of storms and health scares."
In a trading update on 12 March Wetherspoon said like-for-like sales in 2020 were up 3.2% and that wet weather had affected business more than concerns about coronavirus.
Martin's statement, issued via the stock exchange, sees him shifting his outspoken views to the coronavirus pandemic from Brexit. He has regularly used company announcements to support Britain leaving the EU and lambast Brexit's critics.
He said the government should keep the hospitality industry open because even with reduced sales its contribution to the exchequer is "colossal". The sector pays £120bn a year in tax and Wetherspoon contributes £2m a day, he said.
Martin is not alone in criticising the government though others in the industry are seeking state support rather than criticising its strategy for public health. The boss of the Carluccios restaurant chain told the BBC that with no fiscal support the government was condemning restaurants to death.
The Office for Budget Responsibility has encouraged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to "spray water" at businesses to keep them afloat. Letting enterprises go to the wall will damage the UK's tax base in the long run, officials told MPs.