Pubs fear disaster after being left out of plans to ease lockdown

Pubs face “devastation” after they were excluded from proposals to allow the hospitality industry to reopen in July, fuelling concern that nearly half could be driven out of business by Covid-19.

In a speech outlining his roadmap for easing lockdown, Boris Johnson said “at least some of the hospitality industry” could be open again within two months, provided social distancing rules can be enforced.

But Whitehall sources said this would apply only to cafes and restaurants with outdoor space, and that England’s pubs must remain closed into August and possibly beyond.

The exception is likely to intensify fears for the future in an industry already battling long-term decline.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), said: “The industry was looking for a glimmer of hope today … but it looks like we have more weeks of uncertainty ahead of us.

“With insufficient clarity as to when pubs will reopen, our sector remains in limbo and facing severe uncertainty and financial devastation. If government plans to keep pubs closed until the final phase of release, as rumoured, this would make pubs first in and last out of lockdown.”

She called for specific financial support for pubs from the government, after 40% of BBPA members said they could close if they don’t get some by September.

The industry is also in the grip of a growing civil war, as publicans who rent their premises from pub companies accuse the firms of threatening their survival by refusing to cancel rent payments.

Tim Martin, the founder and chairman of JD Wetherspoon, has previously played down the risk of Covid-19 transmission in pubs.

But he said he would accept pubs remaining closed longer than other parts of the hospitality sector.

“It’s fair enough if the government is ‘following the science’ and there is evidence of pubs being riskier environments than other places,” he said. “I genuinely don’t know the stats on pubs and there may be none available.”

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