Plans to allow round-the-clock Sunday shopping this summer provoked anger last night from shop workers' leaders and the prospect of a Conservative rebellion against the move.
George Osborne yesterday confirmed plans to lift all Sunday trading restrictions for eight weekends between July and September during the London Olympics and Paralympics.
He said the move was designed to maximise the economic boost from the tens of thousands of visitors coming to London for the games. Elsewhere in the country, he hopes shoppers will be encouraged out by the lighter summer evenings.
The Chancellor said: "We have got the whole world coming to London and the rest of the country for the Olympics. It would be a great shame, particularly when some of the big Olympic events are on a Sunday, if the country had a 'closed for business' sign on it."
Mr Osborne stressed that the relaxation was a temporary measure, but said the Treasury could "learn lessons" from the experiment. His department is considering the case for a permanent restriction of the rules, provoking accusations that the Government was using the Olympics as a step towards scrapping all Sunday trading regulations.
John Hannett, the general secretary of the union Usdaw, claimed the move would ruin many shop workers' family lives. He is to meet Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, tomorrow to discuss the union's fears.
The Keep Sunday Special Campaign said in a statement: "No changes to Sunday trading legislation are needed to enable all Olympic visitors to have a great day out with family and friends. When did shopping become an Olympic sport?"
At the moment supermarkets and shops with a floor space of more than 3,000sq ft can only open for six hours in Sundays – a restriction that would cover the three largest souvenir shops on the Olympic site in east London.
To suspend the rules, legislation would have to be pushed through the Commons within the next 10 days. Several Tory MPs will have grave misgivings about the measure and could join forces with Labour to oppose it.Reuse content