Two of the biggest names in hospitality have threatened to take the government to court over its plans to release England from lockdown.
Punch Taverns founder Hugh Osmond and Greater Manchester’s night time economy adviser, Sacha Lord, said the industry is losing £200m a day.
In a letter to the prime minister, they said there is no “evidence or justification” to open shops five weeks before pubs and restaurants.
They said it is “plainly irrational”.
The government has insisted the lockdown easing must be cautious if it is to be irreversible, adding that it will driven by data and not dates.
Under current plans, non-essential retail will be able to open from 12 April if new coronavirus infections are kept under control. Outdoor hospitality, such as beer gardens, will also be allowed to reopen then.
But pubs and restaurants will not be allowed to welcome customers through their doors to sit inside until at least 17 May.
The industry has long argued that pubs re-opening last July had a negligible effect on infections, which only began to rise after schools reopened. And the Chancellor recently defended his own Eat out to Help out scheme, arguing that it protected jobs.
The two men have asked the government to seek specific advice from scientists “whether it is justifiable to prevent the hospitality industry opening whilst, at the same time, allowing non-essential shops to open”.
They argued that “transmission is plainly higher in non-essential shops,” and said they would pursue legal action if the government did not provide evidence to the contrary.
“This legal case will give a fighting chance to over three million people who work in hospitality, to the tens of thousands of businesses, suppliers, landlords and contractors – large and small – forced into bankruptcy, and to millions of our loyal customers who have been deprived of the human social interaction they experience in our premises,” Mr Osmond said.
He added that the extended lockdown for hospitality venues could have a “potentially indirectly discriminatory effect” on young people and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds working in the sector.
“I believe we can show that discrimination and unsubstantiated beliefs, rather than facts, science and evidence, lie at the heart of much of the government’s approach to hospitality, and these wrongs need to be righted.”