October 20, 2020

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England’s hospitality bosses prepare legal challenge to Covid lockdowns

Business leaders are mounting a legal challenge the government’s lockdown restrictions, which they say have decimated the hospitality industry.

The challenge to the legality of emergency legislation is due to be handed to Downing Street on Monday as swathes of the country prepared for stricter lockdown rules.

Boris Johnson has come under increasing pressure to act after Scotland announced fresh restrictions on the hospitality sector. Ministers are planning to outline a new three-tiered system of restrictions, with measures expected to force pubs and restaurants to shut across the north of England.

But lawyers for the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), the British Beer and Pub Association and two of the country’s biggest brewers and pub operators, JW Lees and Joseph Holt, alongside another 10 organisations, are to challenge the latest round of coronavirus restrictions affecting the hospitality and entertainment industry.

Industry leaders argue the restrictions, which have already had a significant impact on pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality venues across the country, are not based on any “tangible scientific evidence” that closing venues suppresses transmission of coronavirus.

Sacha Lord, the night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, who is leading the challenge with the support of the area’s mayor, Andy Burnham, is hoping to overturn the restrictions.

Lord, who has instructed lawyers to draft a submission to the government, challenged Westminster to produce the science behind the “draconian and dramatic” rules.

“We are calling out for the scientific evidence that supports closure. The vast majority of businesses have put in place impeccable measures to protect their customers, all at an extra cost to their business, yet it feels like the government are taking another cheap shot at the hospitality industry,” he said.

He added: “Once again the government wants to shut down pubs and bars, but this cannot keep happening and we need to understand why the hospitality industry is being isolated like this – where is the scientific evidence to suggest closing venues suppresses transmission?”

In Scotland, the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced a “short, sharp” package of measures to come into force from 6pm on Friday.

Under the new rules, indoor hospitality venues will only be allowed to operate between 6am and 6pm daily, selling food and non-alcoholic drinks only, while outdoor bars will be allowed to serve alcohol until 10pm.

In the five Scottish regions with the highest number of cases, including Glasgow and Edinburgh, licensed premises will have to shut for a 16-day period, although they can offer takeaway services.

Michael Kill, chief executive of NTIA, which represents more than 1,400 businesses, said the hospitality industry had been left with no other option but to challenge the government.

“Another closure will undoubtedly cause extreme hardship. The gravitas of the situation and the impact on the industry has been elongated and uncompromising,” he said.

He added: “We need to know about the government’s methodology, the science behind it, because otherwise it just feels like these measures against the hospitality industry are disproportionate and unfair.”

The number of people in hospital with coronavirus increased across every part of England on Saturday – rising to 1,167 in the north-west, up from 725 in the previous week.

The government is already facing a challenge to its 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants in England. The owner of nightclub business G-A-Y Group Ltd, Jeremy Joseph, has called for a judicial review to have the curfew, which was implemented on 24 September, overturned.

A Commons vote on the controversial curfew has been scheduled for Tuesday, paving the way for a rebellion on the Tory backbenches. But Johnson is likely to be spared a defeat after the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, ruled out telling his MPs to oppose the measure.

Supporting the latest legal challenge, Burnham said the closure of the hospitality industry would disproportionately affect those on the minimum wage.

Last week, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced that two-thirds of the wages of workers in businesses forced to close by local and national lockdowns will be covered by the government under an expanded job support scheme.

But Burnham argued that “damage to the economy will be deep and long-lasting” if the government fails to extend the full furlough scheme, which covered 80% of wages.

“The government is treating hospitality industry workers as second-class citizens. Many of them are already on the minimum wage and there is no justification for a furlough scheme that pays two-thirds of their wages when workers in other industries were given four-fifths,” he added.