Wetherspoon founder criticises UK government for coronavirus 'lockdown'

FILE PHOTO: JD Wetherspoon's chair Tim Martin speaks during a "Leave Means Leave" rally in London, Britain January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

(Reuters) - The British government is making a “tactical error” in shutting down social life to combat the spread of the coronavirus, a move that could destroy the tax base and cripple the economy, JD Wetherspoon Chairman Tim Martin said on Tuesday.

People should avoid pubs, clubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres, the government said on Monday, although Prime Minister Boris Johnson stopped short of ordering them to close.

“I believe the government will make a tactical error in resorting to de facto “lockdown”,” company founder Martin said in a stock exchange statement.

“Lockdown delays the inevitable and destroys the tax base at the same time, which will cripple the NHS (National Health Service) and the economy,” added Martin, a vocal supporter of the Brexit campaign.

Martin said the hospitality industry contributes 120 billion pounds a year of tax and supports six million jobs.

Pub and restaurant operators face a hit to sales as customers stay at home. Smaller City Pub Group said on Tuesday it expects a material reduction to its financial expectations for 2020.

Shares in the Wetherspoon, which Martin founded in 1979, were down 12.5% at 621.5 pence by 1245 GMT. City Pub Group shares had plunged 30%.

Martin said Wetherspoon sales had been “positive in the last few weeks in spite of storms and health scares.”

Reporting by Tanishaa Nadkar in Bengaluru; editing by Louise Heavens/Keith Weir