Sports Direct confirms closure of English stores and attacks Michael Gove

Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, which owns Sports Direct, Evans Cycles and Frasers department stores, has confirmed it will not open any stores in England – even if they are considered “essential retailers”.

The company also launched a scathing attack on the Government, singling out Cabinet minister Michael Gove.

In a statement released to the stock market on Friday afternoon, Frasers Group said: “In England, stores closed from 5 November 2020 and are currently expected to reopen when current regulations expire after 28 days.

“The Government finally updated mixed retail rules for England yesterday, Thursday 6 (sic) November 2020.

“We note inconsistencies remain and, given Michael Gove MP chose to perform a PR stunt on TV to deflect the public’s opprobrium on to Frasers Group at the start of the previous lockdown, we currently will not be opening any of our fascias in England, including those with mixed retail use that include ‘essential retail’.”

In March, the PA news agency revealed Mr Ashley planned to open Sports Direct stores during the national lockdown, claiming the sites were “essential” retailers.

The company faced heavy criticism from politicians and unions, including Mr Gove, and Mr Ashley subsequently apologised for his actions.

However, PA subsequently revealed prices of home gym equipment were hiked on Sports Direct’s website within 24 hours of the lockdown announcement.

The latest Frasers statement continued: “In our opinion, based on the fact that, amongst other matters, the Government has been unwilling, over a period of six months, to even clarify what it believes a ‘bicycle shop’ is, the likes of Mr Gove are failing to provide the leadership and guidance that businesses require.

“Even the chaotic demises of BHS and Debenhams seem to us to be a picnic when compared to the systematic and risible mismanagement of Covid-19 by Mr Gove and his cohorts, which is causing devastation in particular to the retail sector.”

It is understood Mr Gove held a phone call with Mr Ashley in March, on the pretence that Frasers could offer logistics support for the lockdown.

In other regions of the UK, Frasers said stores in Northern Ireland and Scotland remain open. In Wales, stores are currently closed but are expected to open on Monday, “albeit subject to further announcements”.

Frasers Group owns the Evans Cycles brand and would be able to open its stores during England’s second national lockdown following the Government branding them as “essential” retailers.