Our government has hardly earned a spotless reputation for its competence, so it was perhaps little surprise that the Easter weekend’s announcement was mired in confusion and chaos.
In a worrying but all too familiar sign of sloppiness and indiscipline, ministers put out mixed messages on Covid passports, leading to a rollercoaster of emotions for the operators reading the weekend newspapers.
On Sunday, the idea appeared to have been ruled out altogether for pubs and restaurants, and only under consideration for theatres, cinemas and large-scale events.
This was an apparent concession to the growing cabal of Tory MPs bitterly opposed to the plan, threatening rebellion and a chance of blocking the plan if they were to join forces with Labour.
According to reports, the industry would be consulted on how their venues will operate (I think we’ve heard that one before). Yet there was hint that not all was as cut and dry as it seemed.
Suggesting the makings of a plan that had not been fully thought through, or that had considered the varying shapes and sizes of hospitality venues, ministers acknowledged there would be some debate about were the line was drawn between a quiet neighbourhood local, and a packed high street bar.
Still the message was supposedly clear: “Pubs, restaurants and non-essential retail won’t be required to introduce certification,” a government source told The Sunday Times.
Either the Sunday Times’ sources were completely wrong, or the government has not formed a unified view, but that straightforward message is now about as clear as an unfiltered cloudy IPA.
Johnson said the proposals had yet to be fully developed but has pledged to consult parliament before anything was implemented - again, not something the industry has any reason to be particularly encouraged by, judging by past experience.
Having blundered into the conversation with off the cuff remarks, the back of the fag packet policy making continues, under the brief of Michael Gove, who is apparently pressing ahead with the plan.
The approach, which aims to not so much nudge operators into introducing Covid checks, but shoulder barge them into it with the force of a burly doorman, contains little carrot and plenty of stick.
Appearing to give operators the power to make their own choices, it actually threatens to box them into a corner.
Kate Nicholl is right to call it a Hobson’s Choice, as those that do not comply will be unprofitable if they have to maintain social distancing.
Quite aside from the issues for young people who haven’t had the vaccination, who often staff bars and restaurants, and have suffered one of the worst burdens of the pandemic, there are a myriad of other complicating factors at play.
With cost and compliance set to fall on operators, UKH says this will be significant, another burden for an industry that has jumped through all the hoops, but still emerged as the perennial whipping boy.
As far as the next few weeks are concerned at least, hospitality seems to have been spared – for now.
But going by the messages emerging from the government, and the prime minister’s repeated suggestions that it would be a “sensible” thing to do, it certainly cannot be ruled out.
Editorial: Covid passports can’t be ruled out
Our government has hardly earned a spotless reputation for its competence, so it was perhaps little surprise that the Easter weekend’s announcement was mired in confusion and chaos. In a worrying but all too familiar sign of sloppiness and indiscipline, ministers put out mixed messages on Covid passports, leading to a rollercoaster of emotions for the operators reading the weekend newspapers.