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Founder of pubs group JD Wetherspoon backs Brexit

LONDON (Reuters) - The boss of pubs group JD Wetherspoon has backed the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, breaking ranks with other leaders of major listed companies who have highlighted the economic risks of so-called Brexit.

File photo of Tim Martin, chairman of pubs group JD Wetherspoon, attends an interview with Reuters at the Metropolitan Bar in London January 13, 2012. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

Tim Martin, founder and chairman of the chain of more than 900 pubs, said on Friday he supported the principle of free movement of people and trade in Europe, but added political decisions should not be made by an “unaccountable body”.

He said it made no sense for decisions on sensitive issues, such as migration, to be “decided by faceless bureaucrats in Brussels” rather than national parliaments.

Britons will vote on June 23 whether to remain in the EU. Prime Minister David Cameron - who backs EU membership - has urged business leaders to play a prominent role in the debate to help voters gauge the economic implications of their decision.

Leaders of more than a third of Britain’s biggest companies said last month Brexit would put the economy at risk, though the boss of Merlin Entertainments said leaving the EU would not harm his tourist attractions firm.

Wetherspoons is a major employer, with around 37,000 staff. This includes a “decent” number from around the world, including the EU, a spokesman said, without being more specific.

TAX GRIPE

Martin also used the publication of the group’s half-year results to call on the government to cut sales taxes on meals and drinks served in pubs and restaurants, a sector struggling to compete with supermarket sales of cheaper alcohol.

He said tax bills for the company were rising by nearly 10 percent a year, with 333 million pounds paid to the government in the first half of its financial year.

Martin said the biggest danger to the pub industry was the continuing disparity between the taxation of supermarkets and pubs, noting pubs paid sales tax at a rate of 20 percent on meals whereas a lot of food sold by supermarkets was exempt.

Wetherspoons, known for low-cost meals and for drinks promotions, grew sales by 6.2 percent in the 26 weeks ended Jan. 24 to 790.3 million pounds. Pretax profit dipped 3.9 percent to 36 million pounds.

In the first six weeks of its second half, like-for-like sales increased 3.7 percent and total sales were up 5.7 percent.

At 1120 GMT, Wetherspoons shares were up 0.5 percent at 693 pence.

Editing by James Davey and Mark Potter

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