The boss of Wetherspoons has urged the government to allow more migrants from the European Union to work in the UK, amid a staffing shortage triggered by the pandemic.

Tim Martin, the JD Wetherspoon pub chain’s founder and chairman, has been a passionate supporter of Brexit, repeatedly advocating for Britain to leave the EU without a deal.

Now, Mr Martin is trying to tackle a headcount crisis driven by the exodus of more than 1.3 million overseas nationals from the UK in the past year – leaving pubs and restaurants short-staffed.

The businessman, who is worth an estimated £448m, called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to introduce a new immigration system with his newfound independence from Brussels.

“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,” he told The Telegraph in an interview.

“America, Australia and Singapore have benefitted for many decades from this approach. Immigration combined with democracy works.”

Mr Martin said that special preference could be given to those countries nearest to the UK.

The hospitality industry is facing a recruitment crisis as it struggles to fill thousands of vacancies left after an unprecedented outflow of migrants leaving Britain during the pandemic.

Foreign nationals make up 43% of the UK hospitality sector’s workforce, according to research from Fourth Analytics.

Venues are finding it difficult to hire front-of-house staff and chefs as they experience a shortage of 188,000 workers, according to research by UK Hospitality.

And despite job protection schemes, around 10% of hospitality workers have left the sector over the past year, according to recruitment website

Mr Martin has also been a vocal critic of the government’s handling of the pandemic, and he has frequently criticised lockdown rules.

In March, the he called for an end to the “mayhem” of lockdowns and tier restrictions as the company slumped to a £68m half-year loss.

At the same time, the company announced plans to open 18 new pubs and refurbish dozens more – but warned the investment was conditional on no more lockdowns and “constant changing of rules”.

The pub chain said it was keen to begin the £145m project, expected to take around two years and create 2,000 jobs, within weeks of pubs reopening fully later this year.

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