Pressure is mounting on Boris Johnson’s government to review the new 10pm curfew imposed pubs, bars and restaurants after drinkers crowded streets across the country at closing time.
Ministers have been urged to change course on the “shambolic” and “ill-thought-out” restriction brought in on Thursday in response to surging coronavirus infections.
Crowds have been seen gathered each night in English cities after the curfew came into force, with long queues forming for public transport and off licences as many drinkers continued their night in each other’s homes after pubs closed.
As criticism rained in from city nightlife officials and the ailing hospitality sector, as well as some Tory MPs, culture secretary Oliver Dowden insisted there was “definitely science” behind the curfew, despite a scientist advising the government saying he had “never heard” the measure discussed at Sage meetings.
Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said: “It's very clear, across the UK, that this ill-thought-out 10pm curfew, has pushed everyone out of venues with socially distanced measures, into the streets, into off-licences, supermarkets, overcrowded public transport and house parties.
“Every operator predicted this. Shambolic.”
Industry experts were been involved in government discussions ahead of the curfew’s imposition, said British Beer and Pub Association chief executive, Emma McClarkin.
“The curfew has been another devastating blow to the beer and pub sector. We have invested millions in creating safe socialising environments and had been slowly winning back the confidence of our customers and rebuilding our trade,” she said.
“Having not been consulted by the government on the announcements last week, we do stand ready to work with the government to find the safest and most practical ways to tackle coronavirus whilst crucially keeping our businesses and the hundreds of thousands of jobs they provide alive.”
Ms McClarkin added: “As we have seen this weekend, the hard 10pm curfew has led to the consequence of customers leaving venues and filling the streets en masse. We would like to see the hard 10pm reviewed to allow us flexibility on doors closing time and allow customers to stagger their exits.”
In Wales, alcohol sales are banned after 10pm, but customers are given an extra 20 minutes to finish their drinks after last orders.
Shadow justice secretary David Lammy also criticised the curfew for leading to a “situation where people are bubbling out of pubs, they're hanging around towns and they're potentially spreading the virus”.
And senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood said the 10pm closing time “makes no sense”, as he pointed to government figures suggesting only five per cent of coronavirus outbreaks are linked to hospitality.
Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday morning, hours after crowds filled the streets in Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and countless other towns and cities across England, Mr Dowden sought to defend the new rule.
“There is definitely science behind it, that's why we're requiring people to be seated in pubs and restaurants, so that stops the flow of them to and from the bar,” the culture secretary said.
“We are reducing the closing times to stop people staying later and drinking. And the point about all of this is that everyone has their part to play. If we all play by the rules, we can ensure that there are not further, more draconian restrictions.”
Liverpool’s mayor Joe Anderson described the scenes in his city as “shocking but predictable”, warning that the curfew is “making things more dangerous”.
Additional reporting by PA