The pub chain JD Wetherspoon has criticised the government’s “hypocrisy” for holding parties at 10 Downing Street while restrictions forced pub sales to crash.
Wetherspoon also said the latest plan B restrictions brought in at the start of the Omicron wave of infections in December had depressed sales over the crucial festive period in the hospitality sector for a second year running.
The pub chain, run by chairman and founder Tim Martin, directed its ire at the government over “partygate”.
Wetherspoon said “there would have been a number of advantages for the nation” if pubs had been open on 20 May 2020, the date on which the embattled prime minister attended a “bring your own booze” party in the garden of No 10.
The trading update alleged that Covid-19 controls in pubs at the time “were superior to private parties”. It argued that this was true because no outbreaks of the virus among customers were reported in public health data, although it did not cite any specific evidence for the claim. Scientific modelling has repeatedly suggested that limiting crowded gatherings helps to reduce coronavirus infections.
The update on Wednesday also claimed that staff in Wetherspoon’s pubs “would have easily dealt with the ‘high jinks’ alleged to have occurred at No 10” and that CCTV in central London pubs would have helped “subsequent inquiries” into the parties.
Although the update to the City on Wednesday was not signed, Martin has a long history of using them to hit back at critics or to highlight his personal political agendas, including prominent support for the Brexit vote that ushered Boris Johnson into power.
In a statement attributed directly to Martin, he said: “The uncertainty created by the introduction of plan B Covid-19 measures makes predictions for sales and profits hazardous.
“The company will be loss-making in the first half of the financial year, but hopes that, with the ending of restrictions, improved customer confidence and better weather, it will have a much stronger performance in the second half.”
Like-for-like sales for the 12 weeks to 16 January 2022 were 15.6% down on the same period a year ago, as the rise of Omicron infections ruined the second Christmas period in a row for British hospitality businesses. Like-for-like sales dropped by 11.7% and total sales by 13.3% year-on-year in the 25 weeks to 16 January, .