Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin said his trip to Portsmouth yesterday was the most disrupted appearance so far on his tour of Britain. Reporter BYRON MELTON was there to watch what went on...
Seconds after arriving, Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin had already featured in a postman’s selfie and been hailed a ‘hero’ by a fan.
He was dressed unassumingly for a man worth an estimated £448m, in a polo shirt and jeans, but he had rolled up to the Isambard Kingdom Brunel to talk Brexit with punters as part of a 100-leg pub tour.
The 6ft 6in magnate is an unashamed backer of a no-deal scenario and visited the Guildhall Walk venue in a bid to promote its benefits – which he claimed include a stronger UK democracy, control over fishing and elimination of 12,000 tariffs on food and clothing.
But his initial reception outside was no indication of what was to come.
For 10.30am on a Friday the place was packed. Beers and coffees were flowing and both leavers and remainers united to greet him.
After a string of pictures with drinkers Tim was handed a microphone and, guarded by a six-strong security detail on the pub's raised seating area, he was off.
‘When the Brexit vote took place the government said “we will implement what you decide” – they did not say that was subject to a deal with Jean-Claude Juncker.’
That early indication of his stance got a roar from Brexiteers, but his other ideas had opposing remainers less convinced.
The 63-year-old said the UK could evade a £39bn EU divorce bill with no deal – claiming it could also smoothly forge itself the trade deals it has long enjoyed with the union after the break-up.
A more heated debate erupted with interruptions from both sides, with one punter urging Mr Martin to ‘stop trying to con the public’ – a quote he has himself used to address what he called ‘scaremongering’ British media – before a bellow of ‘remaining selfish git’ was hurled at another.
Some 39 minutes into his hour-long slot, Mr Martin brought his talk to an early close – after accusations of pushing and prodding in the crowd.
With more than 10 locations visited so far, it was the first time the businessman had opted to cut the speech short, citing the ‘biggest level of disruption’ he had seen on the road.
Debaters were instead asked to approach him in another area of the pub during the remainder of his stay – where civility and turn-taking ensued.
Mr Martin said: ‘There were some – I think you could call them professional agitators – who have been following me around as far north as Hull in the past couple of days.
‘Up until now they’ve interrupted a bit, but here they decided to shut it down.’
Ahead of his departure to Southampton and Weymouth, Mr Martin confirmed he ‘quite enjoyed himself’.