'Freedom day': Businesses call for more clarity on future rules

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives an update on relaxing restrictions imposed on the country during the coronavirus covid-19 pandemic at a virtual press conference at Downing Street on July 5, 2021 in London, England. England's pandemic-related social restrictions were originally scheduled to end on June 23 before being postponed to July 19, largely due to concerns over the Delta variant. (Photo by Daniel Leal-Olivas - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives an update on relaxing restrictions imposed on the country during the coronavirus covid-19 pandemic at a virtual press conference at Downing Street on July 5, 2021 in London, England. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Business groups have welcomed news of the final stage of unlocking in England but called for more clarity from the government on how companies should operate in future.

Lobbying groups said the removal of most remaining COVID-19 restrictions would give the economy a boost but warned that many business owners were still confused as to how things like Test and Trace and self-isolation would affect their businesses in future.

“After enforcing restrictions for so long, the Government must not simply withdraw and allow a free-for-all," said Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). "The sooner we have crystal clear, comprehensive guidance from BEIS, the better."

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a press conference on Monday evening that England would most likely move into the fourth and final step of unlocking from COVID restrictions on 19 July.

"Freedom day" will see all businesses allowed to reopen and a removal of capacity caps for venues such as bars and restaurants. Face masks will no longer be legally required, social distancing will be largely scrapped and the government will end its work from home guidance.

Watch: Prime Minister announces plan for 'living with COVID'

Derek Cribb, chief executive of the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, said the announcement would be a "huge relief" for freelancers who work in the creative and events sector, such as nightclubs, theatres, and music venues.

Richard Burge, chief executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the next stage of unlocking would be "hugely significant" for the capital, which has seen visitor numbers plummet due to work from home orders.

However, while business groups said the next stage of unlocking was welcome, many called for more details on how it would work in practice.

“This is a much-needed step on the road to normality and we welcome the Prime Minister setting out the direction of travel in advance of reopening," said Shevaun Haviland, Director General of the BCC. “But businesses in England still do not have the full picture they desperately need to plan for unlocking."

Haviland pointed to confusion over self-isolation rules, the future of free COVID-19 testing for businesses, and plans for the resumption of international travel.

“Without clear guidance for businesses around the new proposals, there could be real uncertainty on how they should operate going forward and what they should be doing to keep staff and their customers safe," she said.

Tony Danker, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said: "In the coming days we need Government to put in place further measures to create this much-needed confidence.

"Knowing whether workplace testing will continue beyond July, gaining clarity on mask wearing for public transport and understanding how a role test & release scheme can support both domestic industry and our international travel sector can provide a further boost for firms as we all move from crisis to recovery."

The FSB's Mike Cherry said: "Previous false dawns have proved disruptive and disappointing. Any celebrations will be on hold until we know what new operating rules will look like – we urgently need clarity."

Watch: All the rules set to change on 19 July's 'Freedom Day'