Boris Johnson has been accused of wrecking the hospitality industry "to save his own skin" after announcing new Covid restrictions that threaten to wipe £8bn off its sales at the height of the festive season.
Industry leaders warned that the Prime Minister's new "Plan B" rules designed to stop the spread of the omicron variant will knock 40pc off their revenues during the most crucial time of year for pubs, bars and restaurants.
Industry chiefs accused the Prime Minister of introducing the new rules, which include work from home guidance, vaccine passports at large venues and masks indoors, to distract from a scandal over an alleged party at Downing Street that broke lockdown rules a year ago.
Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said “[you] have to question the timing and rationale” of the announcement.
He added: “Is this sound evidence-based public policy making or is this an attempt to move the news agenda on from a damaging story about the Downing Street Christmas party?
“Nightclubs and bars must not be thrown under the bus for the Prime Minister to save his own skin.”
The new restrictions hit share prices across the leisure industry. Wetherspoon fell 1.7pc, while Cineworld dropped 2.6pc and The Restaurant Group, owner of Wagamama, closed down 2.4pc.
Transport companies also suffered amid fears of a sharp fall in commuting, with National Express down 2.5pc and Firstgroup falling 3.8pc.
Meanwhile the pound slumped to its lowest level against the dollar in a year as the threat of new Covid restrictions further dashed expectations that the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee will lift interest rates this month.
Sterling dropped below $1.3190, its lowest level since December 2020, before recovering later in the day. Analysts at Goldman Sachs now expect an interest rate rise no sooner than February.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the trade body UK Hospitality, warned the “double-whammy” of new documentation and work from home guidance could hit revenues at pubs and restaurants by up to 40pc over Christmas.
She said the hospitality industry usually makes around a quarter of its £100bn annual revenues in December alone. Activity has already shown signs of a slowdown in the past week over fears of omicron: “The move to Plan B will cut the recovery in town centres dead in its tracks."
Jace Tyrell, chief executive of the New West End Company business partnership, said renewed restrictions would be a hammer blow for retail and leisure companies, while Mike Cherry of the Federation of Small Businesses warned that cash-strapped companies “simply don’t have the capacity to be enforcement officers for Plan B”.
Matthew Fell at the CBI said the new restrictions were a big setback for businesses, particularly in hospitality and retail: “While Covid certification can support public health, careful implementation and enforcement will be required to assist businesses affected."
A Treasury spokesman said: “We’re taking the action set out in our Winter Plan and are acting early to help control the virus’s spread - while avoiding unduly damaging economic and social restrictions. Our £400bn Covid support package will continue to help businesses into spring next year and we will continue to respond proportionately to the changing path of the virus, as we have done since the start of the pandemic.”