Boris Johnson faces a Tory rebellion after more than 50 of his own MPs said they would vote against government legislation to relax Sunday trading laws.
Downing Street is preparing to overhaul Sunday trading restrictions to allow shops to remain open all day in a bid to boost footfall as the coronavirus lockdown eases.
The plans, however, have been met with fervent opposition from more than 50 Tory MPs who wrote to the prime minister urging him to scrap the agenda.
Signed by backbench MPs including Fiona Bruce, William Wragg, David Amess, Martin Vickers, David Jones, Andrew Selous and Bob Blackman, the letter claims that ‘Conservative MPs from a range of intakes including those elected in 2019 and covering a full spectrum of views in the parliamentary party’ are opposed to the move.
Under the proposed changes, larger retailers would be able to remain open longer than the current limit of six hours. Smaller shops are not bound to any Sunday restrictions.
The names of rebelling MPs have been withheld to avoid pressure by the chief whip to drop their opposition. A number, it is understood, have been in the Commons just over six months.
MPs said removing Sunday trading hours would ‘harm local shops and high streets’ by moving trade to large out-of-town retail parks and supermarkets.
‘Instead the government should review the seven substantive reports developed since 2011, by government departments, industry leading experts, academics and parliamentarians, containing hundreds of recommendations, but none have recommended removing Sunday trading hours,’ they wrote.
‘Sunday represents an important common day of rest, where families and communities can spend time together,’ they added.
‘Sunday is an especially important day for the millions of retail key workers that have been on the frontline during the nation’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak, feeding the nation and delivering for their local communities. 91 per cent of shop workers do not want longer Sunday trading hours in large stores.’
They urged the government to ‘reflect carefully’ on the changes to consider the ‘broad consensus in our party and beyond.’
‘As a nation, we benefit from a few hours on a Sunday to spend time together as a family without the additional pressure of work,’ they said.
‘The Sunday trading hours that we have now strike the right balance for hard working families, and both large and small retailers.’
They also said there was ‘no substantial evidence’ to suggest that relaxing Sunday trading hours would have any effect on economic growth.
‘Our constituents won’t spend more just because the shops are open longer, but trade will be diverted away from the local shops that have kept us all going during the last few months.’
The government needs to lose the support of 41 MPs for the vote to sink if opposition parties choose to vote against the legislation.
Under trading laws introduced in 1994, smaller shops in England and Wales can remain open all day while larger stores are only allowed to stay open for six hours any time between 10am and 6pm.
Attempts to change the law have failed before. In 2016, former Tory prime minister David Cameron suffered a humiliating defeat when 27 MPs crossed the floor to oppose a vote on the new proposals.