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Wetherspoon boss Martin accused of 'junking the UK economy'

By Ravender Sembhy

The founder of drinks brand Innocent has launched a scathing attack on a Brexit-backing Northern Irish businessman, accusing Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin of selling Britain's economy out for "cheap Chardonnay".

Richard Reed said Martin, chairman of the pubs chain, has helped to "junk" the UK economy.

Belfast man Mr Martin (62) is worth hundreds of millions of pounds thanks to his empire of around 900 pubs in the UK and Ireland.

As part of a stark warning about the impact that leaving the EU is having on business investment, Mr Reed said: "Brexit is unhelpful, no-one I know is saying it's a good thing.

"That guy from Wetherspoon (Mr Martin) is talking about it means he can buy cheap Chardonnay from the New World, but I don't think that's a reason to junk a country's economy.

"It's just not going to help anything, it's not a good idea to anyone who uses logic, facts and reason."

As well as the collapse in the pound following the Brexit vote, the British economy has slowed considerably and is now being outpaced by the eurozone.

Undeterred, the Wetherspoon boss has been an outspoken proponent of Britain's divorce from the European Union, issuing countless stock exchange announcements extolling the virtues of Brexit.

He wants Britain to crash out of the EU without a deal and fall back on World Trade Organisation rules, allowing the country to "follow free trade champions like New Zealand, Australia".

"Richard is being melodramatic," former Campbell College pupil Mr Martin said in response.

"Wetherspoon will benefit from leaving the EU, but so will everyone else in the country.

"History shows that democracy and prosperity are closely aligned, and the EU is becoming more undemocratic."

But Mr Reed - who now runs the investment firm JamJar with fellow Innocent co-founders - also warned that British firms are losing out on critical investment because of Brexit.

"I've seen three businesses that have had money pulled because of Brexit.

"At JamJar, we are looking at businesses that are focused on the EU, you have to.

"Do you want to be targeting a market of 60m people or 500m?

"The answer is 500m."

JamJar invests in high-growth firms such as Graze and Deliveroo.

Mr Reed, also a member of pro-single market group Open Britain, sold Innocent to Coca-Cola in 2013 alongside co-founders Adam Balon and Jon Wright for a reported £32m.

He was speaking as part of his role as ambassador for the Plusnet Pioneers campaign, a programme aimed at helping start-up business owners as they build and grow their companies.

The businessman offers his personal advice on securing funding to help SMEs get investment.

"We need Plusnet Pioneers more than ever in Brexit Britain," Mr Reed added.

Now Devon-based, Martin was born in Norwich but moved to Northern Ireland with his family when he was six after his fighter pilot dad left the RAF.

While he later qualified as a barrister, he never pursued a career in law, instead buying and running a series of pubs.

Today, the Wetherspoon chain employs 37,000 people in 891 pubs, of which 54 are hotels.

The pub chain employs between 2,000 and 3,000 staff from other EU countries, reflecting the high number of foreign nationals that help run the UK's bars and restaurants, which are expected to suffer if access to foreign workers is restricted as a result of Brexit.

Martin has said he did not deny that immigration benefits the UK, but he was keen to see it come under domestic control and ensure it is "subject to the will of the people".

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