Prospect of four-week delay in freedom road map wrecks ‘summer of fun’ for angry businesses


Hospitality leaders have reacted with fury as Boris Johnson prepares to introduce a four-week delay to the road map tomorrow amid warnings of further damage to the economy.

The prime minister has been accused of killing the summer of fun, with thousands of events set to be cancelled, including the potential for a second successive summer without big music festivals.

More than 5,000 music gigs by artists including Olly Murs, Beverley Knight and McFly are also expected to be cancelled at a cost of £500 million.

According to industry estimates, a four-week delay to the end of restrictions will cost pubs, bars, hotels and restaurants £3 billion in lost sales and £4 billion to the economy overall. A further 200,000 jobs in the sector, which still has 600,000 people on furlough, could also be lost, according to Kate Nicholls, chief executive of lobby group UK Hospitality.

Under the government’s road map out of the pandemic, all social distancing restrictions were due to end on June 21. At present, theatrical performances and sporting events have their attendances capped at 50 per cent capacity while pubs, bars and restaurants are allowed to provide table service only, with social distancing and the “rule of six” indoors. All nightclubs are closed.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, 73, the theatre impresario, said that another delay to the roadmap delay would be “devastating” and pleaded with ministers to increase the permitted attendance from 50 per cent to 75 per cent as a compromise.

Melvin Benn, the promoter of Wireless, Download, Reading and Leeds festivals, said it would be “a complete and utter disaster for the country” if the easing of restrictions was pushed back to July 19 because test events showed capacity crowds could attend safely.

Speaking on the penultimate day of the G7 summit of world leaders in Cornwall, Johnson prepared the country for the road map delay, saying he had “serious, serious concerns” about the growing number of people hospitalised with the Delta variant from India.

He said: “In order to have an irreversible road map, you’ve got to be cautious. Where it’s necessary to be cautious we will do so. You’ve got hospitalisations up, you’ve got cases up. There are grounds for caution. I think we’ve got to do whatever it takes to protect life in this country.”

The final decision on whether to cancel freedom day is expected to be made at a meeting tonight, or first thing tomorrow, ahead of the announcement by the prime minister later the same day.

Yesterday Johnson’s “quad” of senior ministers — Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove and Dominic Raab — discussed ways to “sugar-coat” the delay by finding ways to enable more events to go ahead this summer. It is understood that more mass events will be added to the government’s pilot scheme. Bigger weddings will also go ahead, although the numbers of guests who can attend will be capped depending on the size of the venue.

Johnson was last night forced to defend the decision not to add India to the red list of places to which travel was banned on April 23, two weeks later than Pakistan and Bangladesh, which had fewer cases per capita at the time. Asked if he regretted this decision, the prime minister said the Indian variant had not “even been identified as a variant under investigation” at the time, though documents on the government’s website say it was designated as such on April 1.