As per usual on a Friday evening, or any evening actually, I find myself in Wetherspoons: cheap food, cheap alcohol… What’s not to like? But if you’re a “remoaner” like myself, you’ll find the beer mats and the menu rather discomforting. “FREE TRADE (ie NO DEAL) MEANS LOWER PRICES” they declare.
I’m not surprised that this is the view the business holds, and I’m not even sure I’m surprised by their decision to essentially push propaganda down our throats while we indulge in good old British binge drinking. It still disgusts me though. The fact that people actually buy this stuff scares me. After reading “The Wetherspoon Manifesto” I felt as if we were on the verge of seeing Tim Martin being elected Prime Minister because he’s a “businessman”.
This isn’t the first time that beer mats have been Tim Martin’s weapon of choice. He has always used them in order to get out his frustration with the EU; but with the issue of a no-deal Brexit, I feel the need to speak out against them. A no-deal Brexit is problematic for many reasons, and for students, I feel one of the bigger ones is what happens to EU nationals living in the UK. A no-deal Brexit puts them at risk, it puts them in uncertainty, and why wouldn’t they feel that way? They’ve been essentially treated as human bargaining chips throughout the Brexit negotiations.
What’s even more disheartening is that, ultimately, it’s the employees who have to put out these beer mats, and so it’s not a stretch to say that you’d automatically associate those working behind the bar with “No deal Brexit” plastered all over it as no-deal Brexit supporters (or Brexiters in general). And then, of course, there are European employees of the chain; speaking with a Wetherspoons ex-employee, they told me that the European workers at Wetherspoon’s felt particularly uncomfortable when it came to the promotion of Brexit during the campaign:
“I worked at a Wetherspoons branch in the summer of 2016. I remember it was a really diverse team and loads of my colleagues were European - many of them students. I remember being told by senior management to distribute pro-Brexit beer mats on the tables, and how uncomfortable this made everyone. Even worse, I remember coming into work after the referendum and sharing in this sense of defeat. Many of my colleagues said they didn't know what this meant for them as Europeans in the UK.”
I will mention that in the Wetherspoons manifesto their first “policy” is to grant full rights to legal EU immigrants, but Brexit exists outside the doors of a Wetherspoons (surprisingly). Immigration has become a heated issue, not only in the lead up to the referendum but after the vote to leave as well, and that’s why I find it so frustrating that a large chain like Wetherspoons would put its employees in that position.
I do partially understand the motivation behind the decision: Brexit is a very economic discussion so if a business (such as Wetherspoons) thought that this deal would improve their position, of course they’d publicly back it. However, I find it strange that a business would so openly take a stance like this when, looking at the votes, the country was literally split 50/50. But Tim Martin has been doing this since 2002 and, despite his own political agenda, a lot of us still find ourselves enjoying greasy hangover cures at Wetherspoons.
With the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, that uncertainty is raised again. The country is already treating Brexit as if it will be a no-deal future for Britain; Tesco’s discount store “Jack’s” being set up in an attempt to replace European discount stores such as Lidl or Aldi, and companies are stockpiling goods preparing for the worst-case scenario. I know no one is about to turn around and boycott Wetherspoons. I do, however, believe we shouldn’t stop “moaning” just yet. A no-deal Brexit could be deeply damaging to the UK and, despite the "remain" defeat when it came to the referendum, it doesn’t mean we should accept defeat on a no-deal Brexit.