Ministers have identified June 22 as the date they hope to reopen pubs and restaurants in a plan designed to “save the summer”.
Rishi Sunak is one of half a dozen ministers calling themselves the “save summer six” who want to speed up the reopening of the economy. Last night the Financial Times reported that they were aiming for June 22 to allow pub gardens and the outdoor spaces of restaurants to reopen. Ministers will ease planning restrictions where necessary.
Meanwhile, individual prayer is to be allowed in places of worship from June 15. The government is also planning to relax Sunday trading laws, which limit the hours that large shops can operate on Sundays, for a year to help to stimulate the economy.
Yesterday Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, said that relaxing Sunday trading laws was the wrong thing to do and would harm the lives of essential workers in shops and supermarkets.
“We’ve just been applauding our frontline workers. Supermarket workers are among those,” she said. “They’re deeply worried about what this will mean for them in terms of time with their families.”
Critics say that liberalising the rules would benefit large supermarkets at the expense of small shops, which are allowed to open for as long as they like on Sundays. Lucy Powell, the shadow business minister, said that the Labour Party saw “no justification for the proposal to relax Sunday trading, full stop”.
“It is wrong because the big supermarkets have seen increased trade, whereas it’s the small shops on the high street that have suffered the most through this crisis,” she said. “It is also bad for staff. We owe supermarket workers a huge debt. The government cannot repay them by forcing them to work longer hours.”
The government will announce its intention to change Sunday trading rules as part of plans to ease restrictions and stimulate the economy in the next few weeks. Boris Johnson is understood to be concerned about estimates that up to 3.5 million jobs could be lost if the lockdown continues.
Alok Sharma, the business secretary, announced last night that he was creating five “recovery roundtables” with businesses to discuss ways to support the economy over the next 18 months. The groups will focus on the future of industry, environmentally friendly growth, start-ups and small businesses, increasing opportunity in different parts of the country and attracting foreign investment.
Mr Sharma said that the roundtables would “undoubtedly lead to a cleaner, greener, more resilient economy, which will create new jobs”.
The prime minister is keen to reduce the two metre social-distancing rule, which is among the strictest in the world. Tory MPs and the hospitality industry have emphasised that cutting this to one and a half metres or one metre, as in other countries, would allow many more people into shops, restaurants and on public transport.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is understood to be wary of easing restrictions too quickly. He told Sophy Ridge on Sunday on Sky News yesterday: “People do ask me about the economy but my view is that the worst thing for the economy would be a second spike.”