Justice Secretary criticises Wetherspoons' June reopening plan

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland says Wetherspoon boss’s plan to reopen pubs in June is ‘a mistake’ that would ‘create confusion for the public’

  • Pub chain forced to shut all 900 pubs and furlough 40,000 workers in March
  • Outspoken chairman Tim Martin claimed closing pubs was ‘over the top’ 
  • One Wetherspoon in south London was spray painted with ‘pay your staff’  
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

 Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has criticised Wetherspoons chairman Tim Martin over his announcement to work on a plan to reopen his pubs in June. 

Mr Buckland said it would be a ‘huge mistake’ for individual businesses to ‘go off at a tangent’ as this would undermine the nation’s collective efforts to beat Covid-19. 

Mr Martin was forced to close his 900 pubs and furlough the firm’s 40,000 workers in March as a result of the government’s coronavirus lockdown. 

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, pictured, has criticised a decision by Wetherspoons’ boss Tim Martin to plan reopening his 900-pub empire in June as this undermines the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic

Chairman Tim Martin (pictured with Prime Minister Boris Johnson in July last year) was forced to close all 900 pubs and furlough 40,000 workers when Britain went on lockdown on March 23

Shortly before the lockdown was announced, the controversial publican had claimed he would protect staff and customers from coronavirus by keeping the doors open and allowing fresh air into the buildings. 

Mr Buckland, speaking on LBC this morning said: ‘I can understand the frustration of proprietors and owners of retail and pub outlets wanting to get back into business. But my advice to everybody is to please follow the collective view of government and indeed the British people in working together to save lives.’ 

He told Nick Ferrari: ‘I think it would be a mistake for different individuals or businesses to just go off at a tangent and do their own thing. That just creates confusion for the public and it blunts the effectiveness of any measures we are taking, and it endangers all the progress we have been making in containing this virus.

‘If we are going to beat this, and if we are going to win the fight, we have got to do it together. So let’s do this in a concerted way instead of going off in all different directions.’

Wetherspoons was among the last on the High Street to shut up shop, with drinkers downing their final pints on March 20 – just three days before a shutdown was imposed by law.  

There were threats to stage a nationwide boycott of the chain when Mr Martin claimed closing pubs was ‘over the top’ and that supermarkets posed a bigger risk of spreading coronavirus than bars.   

He later refused to pay workers until he received the appropriate government bailout and sparked further fury and accusations of hypocrisy when he told workers to get jobs at Tesco instead. 

Wetherspoons is planning to re-open its pubs and hotel nationwide ‘in or around June’

Drinkers are pictured at JJ Moon’s in Tooting, south London, on March 20, the final day Wetherspoon was open nationwide 

His pub in Crystal Palace, south London, was daubed with the words ‘pay your staff’ after the Brexit-backing boss refused to pay staff until his government money came through. 

JD Wetherspoon said it aims to raise £141million as part of a share placement scheme so it can re-open as the summer begins.  

The company said it would raise the amount through the issue of up to 15.7 million shares at 900 pence per share.

Public Health England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam also said companies would have to be ‘very painstaking’ on their plans to exit lockdown. 

Asked about the re-opening of pubs, beaches and garden centres, he told the Downing Street press conference: ‘At various different points they might involve the congregation of individuals and one has to be very painstaking and careful about thinking through some of these before we make the wrong move to relax measures.

‘I think we have to be extremely surefooted and extremely painstaking about this.

‘This virus will absolutely come back … this is with us for quite some time, potentially for as long as until we get a vaccine.

‘So from that perspective we have to be really careful and really surefooted and I’m just not going to suggest for a moment that any of this should be rushed.’ 

A Wetherspoon pub in Crystal Palace, south London, (pictured) was daubed with the words ‘pay your staff’ after the Brexit-backing boss refused to pay workers until he had received a Government bailout 

Mr Martin, a Conservative Party donor and ardent Brexiteer, caused even more controversy last month when he said he would catch coronavirus because his ‘chances are good’. 

The 64-year-old said: ‘If someone offered me the opportunity now to have it under supervised conditions, I think I’d probably take it because your chances are very, very good.’ 

He told Sky at the time: ‘Supermarkets are very, very crowded. Pubs are much less crowded. 

‘There’s hardly been any transmission of the virus within pubs and I think it’s over the top to shut them. That’s a commercial view but also a common sense view.’  

He claimed that a nationwide shutdown was ‘draconian’ and that it didn’t offer ‘health benefits’. 

Mr Martin had hoped he could get away with introducing social distancing in his pubs, with a ‘regulars only’ policy in some.

He said that people would be able to keep their distance more easily as footfall dropped with some unable to leave the house due to underlying health conditions.  

Wetherspoon pubs nationwide closed their doors on March 20 – three days before they were forced to shutdown by law 

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