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JD Wetherspoon chief says 'ingenuity' will sort out soft border in Ireland

By John Mulgrew

JD Wetherspoon pub chain boss Tim Martin says Northern Ireland has "nothing to fear" from Brexit as the company pushes on with two new bars in Belfast.

The chain, which has close to 1,000 bars across the UK and Ireland, has also unveiled design plans for its planned pub at Royal Avenue in Belfast City Centre.

Last month it lodged a drinks licence application for the former JJB Sports store on Royal Avenue. It's also planning to turn a former Methodist church on University Road into another pub.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the Northern Ireland-educated Mr Martin said he would "like to get on-site" as soon as possible at the two new proposed Belfast pubs, but he says it's "a slow process" to sort out both planning and licences.

And on whether he has concerns over what impact Brexit could have on the trade in Northern Ireland, he said: "I think there is nothing to fear from leaving the EU. There are problems that have to be sorted out, like a soft border, but with ingenuity people will solve those problems."

He said he is hopeful that there will be economic benefit to "both sides of the border", following the UK's exit from the EU.

"If you look around the world, in countries the size of the UK, which have done very well as independent countries outside the EU. The more democracy, the better the economy does. The worrying thing about the EU is its increasing lack of democracy. That is evident now when the unelected president (Jean-Claude) Juncker is speaking on behalf of the EU."

Asked about the sell-off of five of its nine bars here to the home-grown Granny Annie's Group, leaving it with four pubs in Belfast, Carrickfergus, Newtownards and Lisburn, Mr Martin said: "We hope they do very well, and we have moved on to some bigger pubs in Dublin and Belfast. We wish them all the best, and are very grateful to all the staff and customers."

The pub chairman also cheered a healthy jump in quarterly sales, but took a swipe at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) over the lobby group's stance on Brexit.

Mr Martin said like-for-like sales jumped 4% in the third quarter to April 23 this year, while total sales lifted by 1.3%.

He warned that the firm "remains cautious" over the second half of the financial year as it grapples with "significantly higher costs" from business rates, utility taxes, excise duty and labour.

The update came as Mr Martin issued a broadside against the CBI, claiming the group was dishing out "foolhardy advice" to the Government over its efforts to secure a Brexit deal with the EU.

Belfast Telegraph

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