The Brexit-back boss of Wetherspoon, who once called Boris Johnson a “winner”, has said that, if Downing Street staff had been able to attend pubs in May 2020, his employees would have dealt with their “high jinks”.
Tim Martin also said that the CCTV installed in the company’s central London pubs could have helped with inquiries into what happened.
It came as Wetherspoon reported a 16.6 per cent drop in sales over the 12 weeks to the middle of January, as the impact of the Omicron variant of coronavirus struck the hospitality industry.
The business warned that it would make a loss in the first half of its financial year.
Wetherspoon said in an official statement to the London Stock Exchange: “Public anger regarding ‘Partygate’ relates mainly to hypocrisy – the public was prevented from seeing friends and family, while the same rules were not observed at 10 Downing Street.”
It added that there would have been “a number of advantages for the nation” if Downing Street staff had instead been allowed to go to one of its pubs.
“Central London pubs employ experienced staff, including highly trained managers, who would have easily dealt with the ‘high jinks’ alleged to have occurred at No 10,” it said.
It added: “CCTV is in operation in central London pubs, so subsequent inquiries as to events are facilitated by the ready availability of evidence.”
The company said public finances would also be in better shape as the chain, its staff and its customers normally pay around £15 million in weekly taxes.
“There are well-documented social and health benefits from open hospitality venues, especially for people who don’t, or can’t, attend private parties,” it said.
‘He’s a winner’
Founder and chairman Martin backed Johnson in 2019 when the former mayor of London was running to take charge of the Conservative Party.
“I think he’s a winner. Can he deliver Brexit? I hope that he can,” said the businessman, who once donated to the campaign to leave the European Union.
“I think he would make a good prime minister,” he added.
But on Wednesday his company said it is “crazy” that pubs have to pay a higher level of VAT on alcohol sales than supermarkets do.
It also launched a broadside against American investment giant BlackRock, a major investor in Wetherspoon.
In November the investor used its shares to vote against the re-election of all Wetherspoon’s non-executive directors, saying there were shortfalls in corporate governance standards.
On Wednesday the pub chain said: “Blackrock corporate governance executives, at the time of the AGM (annual general meeting) vote, had never met anyone from Wetherspoon – and there was no advance indication of their voting intention.”
It added: “BlackRock itself infringes UK corporate governance guidelines, since its chairman is also CEO, and it does not appear to observe the ‘nine-year’ maximum tenure guideline for NEDs (non-executive directors).”