Image: Parliament TV Image: Parliament TV

Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley says he is "deeply apologetic" for the company's response to the government's lockdown measures.

The retailer insisted it would remain open despite the Prime Minister's announcement that non-essential stores must close, claiming it was “uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible” and was therefore an essential service.

It led to huge public backlash over the move, with suggestions that Mike Ashley's company was simply looking to take advantage of the situation. The following morning, Sports Direct's chief financial officer Chris Wooton backtracked and said it would only remain open if it received permission from the government.

Mike Ashley has now admitted in an open letter than the move was "ill judged and poorly timed", insisting he would "learn from his mistakes".

"I am deeply apologetic about the misunderstandings of the last few days. We will learn from this and will try not to make the same mistakes in the future," he wrote.

Sports Direct also owns Evans Cycles, which is classed as an essential retailer. However, it has decided to close those stores too.

There has been some confusion over what constitutes an essential retailer. The government guidelines suggests only the following stores should remain open:

  • Supermarkets and convenience stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Restaurants and cafes offering takeaway services
  • Banks
  • Post offices
  • Bicycle shops
However, earlier this week the construction sector was told to continue work while observing social distancing measures, which led to confusion and debate among workers, business leaders and government.