Coronavirus: Government wins vote on 10pm curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 14th October 2020

The House of Commons vote on whether or not to maintain the 10pm curfew imposed on English and Scottish restaurants, pubs and bars will took place yesterday after being postponed last week.

When it came to a vote on the controversial lockdown measure, 42 Conservative MPs voted against it, in a show of strength and bigger-than-expected rebellion.

Boris Johnson comfortably won the vote, by 299 votes to 82, with 23 Labour MPs led by Jeremy Corbyn also defying Sir Keir Starmer and voting with the Conservative rebels against the government. This was the biggest Tory rebellion the Prime Minister has faced since he became leader and, had Labour MPs all voted with the rebels, they could have overturned his 80-seat majority.

The vote was sparked last week when a group of Conservative backbenchers expressed a desire to vote the government down on the 10pm curfew, arguing that it has no scientific grounding, and claiming it is an 'infringement of liberty'.

Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope told The Telegraph that the Government was running scared of the rebellion.

He said: "Although they talk the talk because they want to have Parliament deciding these issues, if it looks as though Parliament is going to decide them in a way they don't like they deny Parliament the chance."

MP Steve Baker, added: "It is not clear what the evidence is to support the 10pm curfew or that it is effective.

"With Hospitality UK describing the combined impact of the measures as 'devastating', the Government should think again."

Dissent has grown over the restrictions since it was imposed two weeks ago, as the scientific evidence showing that Covid-19 is spreading in hospitality settings is lacking - recorded at just 3% by Public Health England. 

On the flipside, the damage to businesses is well recorded: According to Catton Hospitality, sales in businesses affected by the curfew have continued to decline, with like-for-likes down 21.2% compared with the week before it was introduced. Worst affected are late-night businesses and those located in the capital, both warning of mass redundancies in the weeks to come.

One Tory MP said: "My sense is that a material number of MPs might vote against the 10pm." Another added: "If it transpires that Labour is going to oppose it, then I would think there would be enough of us who would be inclined to vote against it."

Will Labour back the vote?

While he refused to confirm whether labour party ministers would vote against the curfew, Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, said they were awaiting the scientific evidence justifying it. 

He said: "The Government needs to produce public health evidence for this measure, because what we see at the moment are pictures of people leaving pubs at the same time, crowding onto trains, buses and trams, sometimes even crowding into supermarkets to stock up on extra drinks. How does it contain the spread of the virus?"

Momentum

The news comes as several national campaigns with support from within and outside of the hospitality industry call on the government to cancel the curfew, seen as not only damaging to business but giving a false portrayal of the efforts made to keep guests safe - whereas most infections are currently taking place in education/work settings and in care homes.

A legal case is being brought against the government by owner of Soho establishment G-A-Y, Jeremy Joseph.

In a letter to the Health Secretary, his team argued that the measure has been detrimental to the hospitality sector and "makes absolutely no sense."

He continued: "This government has failed to show why the 10.00pm curfew was put in place and has published no scientific evidence to substantiate its implementation. It seems to direct the blame for this action on the sector, consistently treating the night-time economy as a scapegoat when, in fact, we have years of operational experience of keeping customers safe, and have spent substantial time and effort making sure our venues are covid secure. Enough is enough."

Mutiny

Disquiet is taking place among the government's own ranks, too In an interview with The Sun on the weekend, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak called the measures "frustrating," admitting that ministers are split on the issue.

He said: “Our job is to debate policy and come to the right collective answer but the advice of our scientists was that this would make a difference and there we go."

The Chancellor - nicknamed Dishy Rishi by the British press and public - set out his vision for the economy in a speech at the Conservative Party's annual conference on Monday, promising that the government would continue to be interventionist, but insisting that as a proud Conservative, the goal would always be 'to balance the books.'

His policies, including the furlough scheme and Eat Out to Help Out have made him a popular minister during the crisis, perceived as protective of the hospitality industry in particular.

Where is the evidence?

Andrew Marr questioned the Prime Minister on Sunday, asking him where the credible science lies to support the 10pm curfew, to which he replied: “One of the things that has been put to us is that by curtailing the hours you can reduce the transmission."

"The scientific evidence is of course that the virus is transmitted by person-to-person contact. Yes it’s transmitted in homes, it’s transmitted between people, but it’s also transmitted in what they call the hospitality sectors, it’s transmitted in pubs and bars and restaurants, particularly as people get more convivial as the evening goes on.”

The Prime Minister rebuked claims that the policy may be doing more harm than good by creating congregations on the street and public transport after 10pm, and said people “just need to follow the guidance.”

He added: “Obviously it makes no sense if, having followed the guidance for all the time in the pub, they then pour out into the street and hobnob in such a way as to spread the virus.”

The lack of scientific evidence has been widely echoed in the industry, and is backed by the government's own statistics, showing that the highest rate of infections is still taking place in workplaces, education settings and carehomes. 

 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 14th October 2020

Coronavirus: Government wins vote on 10pm curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants