Hospitality bosses have lost their legal battle to force the UK government to bring forward the reopening date for pubs and restaurants indoors.
A high court judge dismissed the attempt to bring forward indoor reopenings as “academic” because the hearing would be unlikely to take place before 17 May, when pubs and restaurants in England could welcome customers inside.
The legal case against the government the was brought by Sacha Lord, the night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester and a co-founder of Parklife festival, and Hugh Osmond, the founder of Punch Taverns and a former boss at Pizza Express.
Pubs and restaurants in England were allowed to welcome customers again from 12 April after a national lockdown but only in outdoor areas. The government has set out a timetable aiming to allow hospitality customers indoors in England from 17 May, although restrictions will apply. Other nations of the UK have varying timetables for reopening.
At the high court last month, Lord and Osmond argued there was no justification or scientific basis for indoor hospitality to be kept closed for five weeks after non-essential retailers in England were allowed to serve customers indoors from 12 April.
They said about 60% of hospitality venues did not have outdoor space.
Responding to the ruling by Mr Justice Julian Knowles, Osmond said: “This case is not ‘academic’ for an industry that is losing £200m every day it remains closed, for the over 3 million people who work in our industry, or for the tens of thousands of businesses, suppliers, landlords and contractors forced into bankruptcy by government measures.”
He added: “Our legal action gave them a fighting chance, yet once again in 2021, the strong arm of the state has come crushing down on hope and aspiration.”
The two men said the judgment came alongside a report from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), published on 30 April, which stated that the risks of “transmission in hospitality, retail and leisure are relatively low”.
In the report, which focused on Covid-19 transmission in hospitality, retail and leisure, the advisers said there had been a total of 226 outbreaks in pubs and restaurants in England since the pandemic began.
However, the total rose to 343 when fast food outlets, cafes, bars, members’ clubs and catered events were included, according to the data, which goes up to February 2021.
The findings were considered at a Sage meeting early last month.
Lord and Osmond said it was unclear when the Sage report was written or submitted to ministers but added that it was not disclosed by the defence during the legal proceedings.
Osmond said: “When a crucial Sage report is ignored, this goes far beyond caution, and questions need to be asked about when this advice was sought and why this important evidence was not disclosed.”
Lord said there were thousands of pubs, restaurants and bars whose owners and employees were struggling financially because of the “unfair” restrictions.
The two men said they had decided there was insufficient time to challenge the ruling before 17 May, though Osmond said he was reviewing other legal options in relation to the matter.