Wetherspoon may ditch EU products if tariffs imposed
Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin has said he hopes one of the chain's two new Belfast pubs will open in time for St Patrick's Day 2017, so that he can watch the Schools Cup rugby final at a new premises.
Mr Martin, who attended east Belfast's Campbell College in the 1970s, spoke as a trading update showed a slowdown in sales at the chain, which has nine pubs in Northern Ireland.
The Brexit-backing chairman accused European leaders of taking a "bullying" approach to the UK.
He said French wine, champagne and German beer could be making way for UK brands behind the bar if EU suppliers did do more to co-operate with UK companies.
"If we can't get the right price, we will switch suppliers," he added. "We would be reluctant to do that obviously, but if there was a tariff applied to Swedish cider or German wheat beer - which we do sell a lot of - we could bring in more local brands instead."
Mr Martin insisted that it was in everyone's interest for EU countries to allow free trade.
"There are certain circumstances in which EU companies will have an advantage and a large number of circumstances in which UK companies will have an advantage. We strongly believe in free trade," he said.
Wetherspoon revealed that like-for-like sales in the 13 weeks to October 23 rose 3.5%, but added that the number slowed to 2.3% in the last five weeks of the period.
The company also expects to be hit by higher costs in wages, business rates and repairs, with the level of capital investment in existing pubs rising from £34m last year to £60m.
Although Mr Martin is still waiting on planning permission for both of his latest Northern Ireland pubs, on University Road and Royal Avenue in Belfast, he said he was positive they were making "slow progress". He is to open them in a former Methodist Church in the former location, and an old JJB Sports shop in the latter.
And he said dreams of being on-site before St Patrick's Day, so he can watch the Schools Cup Final from one of his new bars.
He added: "I was supposed to play in it in 1973 when we were beaten by Ballyclare and it's haunted me ever since."