Coronavirus: 'Numerous' pub chiefs to defy government by reopening

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Oakman Inns founder Peter Borg-Neal said his pubs would reopen on 4 July. (Oakman Inns)

Dozens of pubs are set to open their doors in early July even if coronavirus lockdown rules have not been officially eased, a pub boss has claimed.

Peter Borg-Neal, founder and CEO of the Oakman Inns group, said on Twitter he had received “numerous messages of support” from other publicans echoing his controversial pledge earlier this week to reopen regardless of current rules.

He did not give further details however, with no other pub bosses believed to have gone public over similar plans.

The group announced on Wednesday it will reopen all 28 of its UK sites on 4 July, challenging prime minister Boris Johnson to directly order them to stay shut.

READ MORE: Pubs pin hopes on takeaway pints to survive lockdown

Borg-Neal said hospitality could not wait any longer for a government decision on opening dates, warning of job losses and closures if it is delayed beyond early July. He also warned the two-metre social distancing rule risks jobs, significantly hampering pubs’ ability to trade.

Anger is growing among hospitality firms at the government’s failure to give a clear date as activity picks up and restrictions ease in other parts of the economy. The government has previously said only that hospitality will be able to reopen from 4 July at the earliest, with pub chiefs demanding confirmation they can resume trading on that Saturday.

Most pubs say they would reopen on 4 July. (Oakman Inns)

The chief executives of dozens of leading pub operators and brewers wrote a joint letter to the prime minister earlier this week demanding a confirmed opening date by this Friday (19 June). “The immediate future of thousands of pubs and hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk in the coming days and months,” it warned.

It said members of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), which coordinated the letter, were burning through at least £100m ($124m) a month in costs with pubs barred from opening as normal.

They said costs were also stacking up from preparing pubs to reopen, and decisions on furloughed workers need to be made urgently if pubs may reopen in two weeks’ time.

But the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) was understood not to have received a response by early Friday morning.

Dermot King, chief operating officer of Oakman Inns, said on Wednesday that reopening was “complex,” with three weeks’ notice needed to arrange supplies of fresh food and cask ales.

He said the company had already invested in new safety measures such as screens between tables, limited capacity, one-way systems and disposable menus.

“We won’t change our plans unless the prime minister intervenes,” warned King.

The decision has proved controversial, with many supporters rallying behind Oakman Inns on social media but many others calling it “irresponsible” during a pandemic.

A government spokesperson said: “We want to be able to reopen pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes as soon as possible and it remains our ambition to do so from the beginning of July, but it must be safe so we do not risk a second wave of this virus. 

“We are working with the sector at pace to develop guidance on how these businesses can reopen safely, and this will be published ahead of time to allow them to prepare.”