Pubs left to drown their sorrows again

Pubs are to bear the brunt of lockdown once more with up to 150,000 establishments facing either closure or brutal restrictions

Pubs hospitality
This article is from The Telegraph’s City Intelligence newsletter. Sign up here for incisive analysis of the day's biggest corporate story from our chief City commentator Ben Marlow.

It’s hard to imagine Rishi Sunak propping up the bar or getting a round in, not least because he’s teetotal. But the pint-sized Chancellor would only find himself being asked for ID. And who would serve a man dressed in a dreadful hoodie and shirt/tie combo?

Alcohol and spreadsheets don’t really mix anyway (though Ken Clarke may have something to say about that), which may explain why pubs have borne the brunt of Covid restrictions once again. One doubts ministers would show the same disregard for the pharmaceuticals industry, or stand by and allow the burgeoning renewables sector to face ruin.

It’s also difficult to square the indifference towards hospitality with the support that has been lavished on steel makers, a sunset industry if ever there was one.

So too, the £2bn of handouts for supermarkets in the form of business rates relief. And can anyone explain how fishing has become totemic during Brexit negotiations when it counts for a minuscule part of the economy? Especially as the Government has turned its back on financial services, arguably the most important industry we have.

The answer, of course, is politics. The disappearance of what remains of Britain’s fishing industry would probably cost the Conservative Party key seats, but no one is going to cry if several thousand bankers abscond to Frankfurt. There would probably be a queue of volunteers to drive them to the airport.

Do Britain’s publicans need to relocate en masse to Blythe Valley, or Redcar, or Dudley North, or one of the other so-called Red Wall seats that turned blue during the last election to get noticed?


The draconian measures enforced on pubs make no sense. As Wetherspoon’s chairman Tim Martin has pointed out, there is no scientific evidence showing that pubs are a hotbed of the virus. It simply doesn’t exist.

And why is it that other businesses that rely on close interaction, such as gyms and hairdressers, are allowed to reopen across the tiers, yet 38,000 pubs, restaurants, bars and hotels in England will shut in Tier 3, and a further 120,000 in tier 2 will be forced to operate under a series of harsh rules that will further damage trade, irreparably in many cases?

Ministers are apparently absolutely fine with us visiting places for the express purpose of excreting sweat in a hot environment, or allowing a total stranger to repeatedly touch our heads. However, they are not comfortable with us socially distancing with a couple of friends over a drink. Or they are, just not in the one place where strict Covid measures, implemented at vast cost, offer real protection.

The rules are not only absurd, but threaten to exact untold damage on an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people. Martin said 366 Wetherspoon pubs will remain shut. At Fuller’s, three quarters of its premises will be closed in tier 2.

It is desperately short-sighted. As one FTSE 100 boss pointed out this week, the hospitality industry could be crucial to the economy’s ability to bounce back.

It’s all very well those that have lost their jobs as a result of the crisis being encouraged to retrain and get new jobs. But the pub and leisure sectors are traditionally where people will find work quickly. If those jobs no longer exist because the sector has been abandoned, then it will take the economy longer to get back on its feet.

On Thursday, industry bosses warned that four in five pubs across England would be rendered unviable or have to close under the new restrictions.

If that comes to pass, then it will be an indelible stain on this Government’s record of managing the economy through the pandemic.