Has the Government declared war on pubs?

By Christopher Snowdon

- Last updated on GMT

Industry query: Christopher Snowdon questions if the Government has waged war on the trade
Industry query: Christopher Snowdon questions if the Government has waged war on the trade

Related tags Legislation Alcohol Opinion Government

I have long harboured the suspicion than the ultimate objective of British politics for the last fifteen years has been to destroy the pub trade.

This semi-serious conspiracy theory gets stronger every year.

As if a ‘comprehensive’ smoking ban and some of Europe’s most extortionate alcohol taxes were not enough, we have had late-night levies, cumulative impact zones, cack-handed attempts to do over the pubcos and more.

The Covid-19 pandemic has given politicians an opportunity to drive in the final nail.

Despite a conspicuous lack of evidence that pubs are a significant source of infection, they have borne the brunt of every policy change. At the first sign of trouble, opening hours were restricted to 10pm.

When the tiered system was introduced in England, pubs were allowed to open in tier two but only on the business-destroying condition that people from the different households could not associate with one another. Tier three didn’t allow them to open at all.

In Scotland, the legislation might as well been written by the temperance movement. In the regions where pubs are allowed to open at all, they can only serve food and soft drinks – and even then only until 6pm. Hotel restaurants are permitted to stay open to serve their guests, but, again, they cannot sell alcohol.

On Thursday 5 November, every hospitality venue in England will be forced to close​ for at least a month.

This will surely seal the fate of many pubs, but even that is not enough for our lawmakers who couldn’t resist adding a vindictive new clause banning pubs from selling alcohol for consumption off the premises. The new guidance says that pubs are allowed to ‘provide takeaway and delivery services’ but adds – almost as an afterthought – that the ‘takeaway of alcohol will not be allowed’.

This is a kick in the teeth to all pubs, but especially to those that do not sell food. You will recall that this was not a feature of the previous lockdown. Many people, myself including, bought alcohol from pubs in the spring, partly to show our support but mainly because they were the only places to get draft beer.

Since off licences will not be closed, it is difficult to see any logic for the ban beyond a malicious desire to stop wet pubs making money. It is as if the Presbyterianism that oozes out of the Scottish legislation has drifted south of the border.

The Welsh Government recently became a laughing stock for banning the sale of ‘non-essential’ items (such as clothes) in supermarkets. As daft as that law was, there was a discernible logic to it insofar as shops which only sold ‘non-essentials’ had been forced to close. Banning pubs from selling alcohol while alcohol can be freely sold elsewhere is just perverse.

Many pubs will have to literally pour beer down the drain when lockdown begins. With their businesses hanging by a thread, banning them from selling unused stock borders on the insane.     

The time has come for pubs to fight back.

Every MP who backs this legislation should be barred for life. No more photo opportunities. No more pictures of them pulling a pint in the local newspaper at election time. No more swift halves in the Westminster Arms between votes. Zero tolerance for temperance. Enough is enough. Hit them where it hurts.

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