In March 2020, the government’s lockdown measures shattered the plans of the half a million people set to get married in the UK. What is normally a period of excitement, anticipation and fun, became a nightmare filled with worry, extreme stress, financial losses and bitter disappointment. In our wedding business, we have watched with dismay how a temporary upset, caused by a virus, became a long and desperate saga of utter misery for thousands of couples. All of this, has been down to the government.
The time has come to take a stand, which is why we have joined forces with Simon Dolan, the UK businessman seeking Judicial Review against lockdown, to seek an injunction against the new rules and declare them illegal. We want to remove reckless legislation so that people can exercise their right to get married or enjoy hospitality, and we can exercise our right to protect our businesses.
As pubs came back to life with the lightening of restrictions on 4 July, it felt very good to be fighting back after the months of closure. Meanwhile, government statistics showed a continuous drop in Covid cases. It seemed like hospitality could get the wheels turning again without there being a Covid spike … but we didn’t count on what would happen next.
The current spike is reportedly mostly in nursing homes, private homes, schools, universities and workplaces. Hospitality only seems to have a walk-on part. Infections in the week pubs re-opened made up 5 per cent of the total, according to Public Health England data. Tinkering with that figure was never going to change the big picture, but that didn’t stop our leaders taking the extraordinary measure of the rule of six and the 10pm curfew.
The effect on morale has been crushing. Hospitality businesses that had some hope of recovery have recognised defeat and closed their doors. And for what? Arguably, the infection source is elsewhere. The insidious blaming of hospitality is a cheap political trick, a transparent distraction with an enormous cost to two innocent groups of people, customers and hosts.
On the wedding front, there is even more baffling and destructive policy. The government decided that weddings were super-spreader events, and then picked a “safe” number of guests out of thin air. A 30-person limit that was “guidance” on 4 July became a 15-person limit set in Law on 28 September, through a process that bypassed parliamentary scrutiny. On that day, the joint hopes of wedding couples and venues were dashed, and the final demise of a £10bn a year sector began.
The government’s view that weddings are uniquely risky makes the condescending assumption that drunken wedding guests will be kissing and hugging with no intervention from their family hosts or the venue staff. Actually, in the disproportionate climate of fear, which is the government’s one achievement, a socially distanced, Covid-secure wedding is a meal with speeches, after which guests go home. Risk is very strictly managed. The government needs to recognise that families care quite as much about their vulnerable as the government, and so they will moderate their behaviour as much as necessary to ensure safety.
The fixed limit of the number of wedding guests at 15, taking no account of the size of the room, should never have become law. In every other industry, rules are based on square meterage. If you have large spaces, you can separate people quite safely in them. It is plain silly that a venue that holds 1,500 people is allowed 15. The 30 rule effectively put wedding venues out of business. The 15 rule makes sure the end comes sooner.
Just weeks ago, the public was being encouraged to go out, to spend a few moments enjoying themselves against the grim background of a pandemic. The chancellor implemented powerful measures to save the hospitality industry. The next minute, the same industry has become the national scapegoats for spikes in regions, with rules that have been snuck into play using a legal loophole, without any kind of parliamentary debate.
The world of hospitality has, more than most industries, bore the brunt of the government’s convoluted crisis response. Contradictory messaging and innumerable changes of strategy, some callously last-minute, have critically damaged our industry, while achieving little in the fight against the virus. Our customers have a fundamental right to get married, and to do so with their loved ones around them. At the same time, we as hospitality businesses, have a right to protect the value of our companies. We recognise the need to adapt our usual behaviour and to protect others in a pandemic, but the measures taken must be considered, consulted and ultimately, decided by parliament.
The government has left us with no choice – we cannot sit by and let such damaging legislation be passed without a second thought. Now, for our industry to survive, we must take them to court.
Mark Henriques is managing director of wedding venues company Cripps & Co
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