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Wetherspoon boss accuses UK government of 'stealth' lockdown

Oscar Williams-Grut
·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
·3-min read
Founder and Chairman of JD Wetherspoon, Tim Martin, following a press conference in the Hamilton Hall pub, in central London, on publication of the pub chain's full year results. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)
Founder and Chairman of JD Wetherspoon, Tim Martin, following a press conference in the Hamilton Hall pub, in central London, on publication of the pub chain's full year results. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images

The boss of JD Wetherspoon (JDW.L) has accused the government of introducing a “stealth” lockdown in England through its tough new tier system.

Tim Martin, the founder and chair of the pub chain, said almost half of his pubs would be forced to remain shut under new rules that come into force when lockdown ends on 2 December.

“The company has campaigned for pubs to revert to the rules agreed between the pub industry, civil servants, local authorities and health officials, which were introduced when pubs reopened in July,” Martin said in a statement emailed to media.

“These rules greatly reduced pub capacity and provided strict social distancing and hygiene standards but, with difficultly, allowed pubs to trade viably. It is very disappointing that yet another raft of regulations has been introduced, which has effectively closed half our pubs.

“In reality, the government has extended a form of lockdown, by stealth, in large swathes of the country.”

WATCH: COVID-19 postcode checker: Which tier are you in? Find out the rules in your area

England is set to exit a four week lockdown on 2 December but restrictions will remain in place under a new three tier system. The government confirmed on Thursday that most of the country will be placed into either Tier 2 or 3 — the highest tiers mandating the toughest restrictions.

Pubs in Tier 2 will only be able to serve alcohol to seated customers with a substantial meal. Those in Tier 3 will only be able to offer takeaway drinks that have been pre-ordered.

WATCH: How England's new three-tier COVID system will work

READ MORE: New COVID-19 restrictions set to 'wipe out' £7.8bn trade for hospitality firms

Martin said the Tier 3 restrictions were too difficult to implement, meaning Wetherspoon pubs in these areas will remain shut. 366 of Wetherspoon’s 873 pubs are in Tier 3 areas.

Real estate advisory group Altus said over 30,000 pubs, bars, and cafes were likely to remain shut across England under the new restrictions. 98% of all pubs in England fall under either Tier 2 or 3, Altus said.

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said the restrictions delivered a “huge blow” to the sector and warned they would cost the hospitality industry over £7bn in lost business.

READ MORE: England’s regional tier restrictions announced by area

Martin said the government and its scientific advisors had made “errors of judgement”.

“There has been no evidence of widespread transmission of the Coronavirus in pubs, as the Test and Trace system has evidenced,” he said.

“The data we have shows that the infection rate has risen, mainly due to social interactions, particularly private household gatherings.

“In shops and hospitality venues there are strict measures in place to ensure they are COVID-safe, whereas it is much easier to inadvertently pass on the virus in someone’s house, where people are more relaxed and less vigilant.”

Martin has been a repeated critic of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

WATCH: Pub operators axe hundreds of jobs as 'harsh' new tier restrictions criticised