Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin attacks ‘baffling and confusing’ coronavirus rules

Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin attacks ‘baffling and confusing’ coronavirus rules

The boss of JD Wetherspoon has attacked “baffling and confusing” coronavirus restrictions on pubs as his company revealed it expects England’s second lockdown to cost it about £14m.

Tim Martin questioned when the 10pm curfew introduced before the lockdown would end, citing the example of closing time rules introduced during the First World War which remained in force for 70 years.

His latest latest broadside came alongside a disappointing set of results for Wetherspoon. The chain reported a 27.6 per cent plunge in first-quarter sales, which included the impact of the 10pm curfew from September as well as local restrictions across much of the country.

Lockdown measures have been introduced in an effort to reduce social contact and stop a surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths. On Tuesday, the UK reported its highest coronavirus death toll in almost six months as 532 people lost their lives in 24 hours.

He suggested the benefits of the tougher restrictions since late September — including the curfew, mandatory table service, and the requirement for customers to wear face masks when moving around pubs — were “questionable”.

On the curfew, Mr Martin said: “Veterans of the industry will recall that the afternoon closing of pubs between about 3pm and 6pm was imposed in the First World War, to encourage munitions workers to return to their factories.

“But the requirement for afternoon closing was only abolished in 1986.”

Under current rules, 756 Wetherspoon pubs in England, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are closed while 64 in Scotland are subject to rules Mr Martin complained were “extremely onerous”. A further 51 sites re-opened in Wales this week after the country emerged from its 17-day lockdown.

Wetherspoon said it would not sell alcohol to take away from any of its premises. The government had planned to ban the sale of takeaway or delivery alcohol from pubs in England before clarifying that alcohol in sealed containers could be sold if ordered in advance by customers.

Wetherspoon sought to give reassurances over its balance sheet strength following a share placing in April and lending through the government’s loans support scheme.