Tory Rebels Block Boris’s Attempt to Extend Sunday Trading to Save What’s Left of ‘Common Day of Rest’

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A group of 50 Conservative MPs has forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to back down from a proposal to extend Sunday trading hours, with the rebels saying it was essential to maintain the “common day of rest”.

British law currently restricts Sunday trading; however, the government of the instinctively liberal Boris Johnson sought to take to parliament plans to allow large stores to stay open for longer.

While the Johnson administration claimed it would help the post-coronavirus economic recovery, the Tory rebels argued that it would not make any difference and would harm the smaller retailers who had supported local communities during the outbreak. Further, it would punish the retail key workers who, despite having worked hard to keep the country fed and supplied during the pandemic, would find themselves having to work longer.

Signed by seven Tory MPs who were willing to have their opposition known, the letter seen by The Telegraph and reported on Sunday said that 50 MPs from across the Conservative spectrum, including those of Boris’s 2019 intake, would vote against him in the House of Commons if it came to a vote. If proposed, Opposition parties would undoubtedly vote against, meaning it would only take 41 Tory rebels to stop the motion in its path.

“We stand squarely behind your ambition to stimulate economic growth and revitalise British high streets, but removing Sunday trading hours will not achieve this,” the Conservative MPs told Johnson.

“It will harm local shops and high streets by displacing 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 said.

“Sunday represents an important common day of rest, where families and communities can spend time together,” the letter continued.

It added that Sunday was an “especially important day” for the millions of retail workers who “have been on the frontline during the nation’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak, feeding the nation and delivering for their local communities”.

Ninety-one per cent of shop workers do not want longer Sunday trading hours, the letter said, pointing out that in the context of renewed reflection brought on by the pandemic, “we have learnt from the outbreak the value of social connectivity” and “we should extend these lessons beyond the outbreak and into the fabric of society”.

The full list of signatories has been withheld from the prime minister to prevent party whips trying to force the rebels to reverse their position.

The Telegraph reported on Monday that Johnson had dropped the plans. The prime minister’s spokesman hinted, however, that there may be another effort to stop Sundays being special, saying trading hours would be kept “under review”.

“We have said we will keep measures such as extending Sunday trading hours under review as they can support shops with social distancing and allow shoppers to buy food and other items more conveniently,” the spokesman told Sky News.

This is not the first time a Conservative government in the UK attacked the sanctity of the Christian day of worship. In 1994, the then Conservative government changed the law on trading on Sunday, so that small shops could be open all day, while large stores could open for up to six hours across England and Wales.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron of a subsequent Conservative government tried to revise the law again in 2016, but was defeated by another Tory rebellion when 27 Tories refused to back him.

The history of three different notionally ‘conservative’ governments trying to radically wipe away the day of rest comes in sharp contrast to the traditionalist conservatives in Poland who passed a law doing away with trading on Sundays to give the day back to families.

In 2018, President Andrzej Duda of the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party signed the measures into law with the support of the Solidarity trade union. Sunday trading was repealed in stages, with no large shops being opened on Sundays as of the beginning of 2020 (with some exceptions, such as only for the weeks leading up to Christmas).

The country’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, had said of the law in 2017: “We don’t want Poles to work the longest hours, we want them to work efficiently for decent pay.

“We want them to have more time for their families, for their loved ones… this is the goal of our development strategy.”

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