Boris Johnson’s plans to extend Sunday trading hours for UK shops looks set to be ditched amidst warnings of a Tory backbench revolt which could result in at least 50 Conservative MPs voting against the Government according to inside sources.
The decision comes after the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that the UK’s Sunday trading laws were ‘under review’. The Government were reportedly considering a year-long suspension of the law as part of its wider strategy to help retailers swiftly recover from the revenue slump triggered by the national lockdown that forced shops to remain closed for months.
The Government did, however, announce they would be introducing new legislation this week aimed at relaxing planning rules and allowing business owners to implement new innovatory methods aimed at maximising their trading potential. The Business and Planning bill in its current state will allow venues such as pavement cafes and outdoor dining facilities to expand their seating facilities once finally open. Nevertheless, the Government did originally hope to introduce a clause in this bill that would see the current six-hour cap on Sunday shop opening hours scrapped.
The current Sunday trading laws were introduced in 1994, and allow smaller shops to open all day in England and Wales, while larger stores are limited to a six-hour stint between 10 am and 6 pm.
While the Prime Minister’s official spokesman stated that ‘we will keep measures such as extending Sunday trading hours under review’, the decision to exclude this measure from the upcoming legislation looks set to be the safer option, in light of his party’s opposition. 7 Conservative MP’s including Fiona Bruce, David Amess and Bob Blackman warned the Prime Minister, in a letter this weekend, that over 50 MPs were known to be opposed to any plans that would extend Sunday trading hours.As part of the letter the group firmly warned their Party Leader:
We stand squarely behind your ambition to stimulate economic growth and revitalise British high streets, but removing Sunday trading hours will not achieve this.[such proposals]will harm local shops and high streets by displacing trade to large out of town retail parks and supermarkets […] the Government should review the seven substantive reports developed since 2011, by government departments, industry-leading experts, academics and parliamentarians, containing hundreds of recommendations.
Sunday represents an important common day of rest, where families and communities can spend time together — a respite particularly needed by retail workers on the Covid-19 frontline. We should extend these lessons beyond the outbreak and into the fabric of society; keeping Sunday just a little bit special provides an opportunity for communities to come together, and for individuals to pause, reflect and recharge for the working week ahead.
These developments could be considered unsurprising, considering that David Cameron’s attempt in 2016, to extend Sunday trading hours, were similarly foiled by Conservative rebels.
USDAW, (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers), welcomed the Government’s climbdown. Their General Secretary Paddy Lillis stated that:
We appreciate the desire to help the retail sector, but the proposal to undo a long-held and workable compromise on Sunday trading was misguided and overwhelmingly rejected by shopworkers. We welcome reports that the government has rejected the proposal to make shopworkers work longer on Sundays.
What the retail sector needs now is a tripartite approach of unions, employers and government sitting down talking about what a retail recovery plan will look like. We have long called for an industrial strategy for retail to help a sector that was already struggling before the coronavirus emergency.