The boss of JD Wetherspoon has called on Boris Johnson to introduce a visa scheme for EU workers as pubs struggle to hire staff in the wake of the pandemic.
Tim Martin, who toured Wetherspoons pubs around the country in his campaign for a hard Brexit, said that Britain should make it easier for lower-skilled workers to relocate for work.
He added that countries geographically closest to the UK should be prioritised under a new visa system to boost bar staff numbers this side of the Channel.
“The UK has a low birth rate. A reasonably liberal immigration system controlled by those we have elected, as distinct from the EU system, would be a plus for the economy and the country,” Mr Martin told the Daily Telegraph.
“America, Australia and Singapore have benefited for many decades from this approach. Immigration combined with democracy works.”
A visa system would make it easier for pubs and restaurants to hire workers from the EU after Brexit rules made it more difficult for lower-skilled workers to settle in the UK.
JD Wetherspoon, which owns 871 pubs across the UK and Ireland, is one of thousands of British establishments that has slimmed down headcounts in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. The company has reduced staff numbers by around 6,000 to almost 38,000 over the past 12 months.
Industry trade body UKHospitality estimated that repeated lockdowns during the pandemic created a shortfall of around 188,000 workers in the sector.
Meanwhile, around one in 10 hospitality workers are estimated to have left the industry over the past year, according to recruitment website Caterer.com.
The bosses of City Pub Group and TGI Fridays have also said that an inability to fill roles had made reopening harder for pubs and restaurants.
Clive Watson, executive chairman of the City Pub Group, said some sites haven’t been able to open for lunchtime trade and the recruitment situation was “another kick in the wotsits”.
Robert Cook, chief executive of TGI Fridays, added that lunch-focused businesses have been particularly affected by changes to the working world during the pandemic.
He said the situation has worsened because of “the arduous process of hiring from the EU” and the fact that “other people are not moving back here because of the situation with Covid”.
It comes as the Government faces pressure from the hospitality industry to stick to its 21 June reopening timetable or face further collapses within the sector.
“A delay would push many businesses closer to the cliff edge of failure, meaning more job losses,” said Kate Nicholls of UKHospitality.
The Prime Minister has said he is “cautiously optimistic” that England will proceed with its final stage of the roadmap next month, which will see all restrictions on social distancing lifted.
But scientists have warned that doing so could risk a third wave of coronavirus infections spreading across the UK.