London / Bloomberg
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is under pressure to reverse his plans to liberalize the U.K.’s Sunday trading laws, with 23 Conservative members of Parliament saying they’re ready to vote against the government.
In the Enterprise Bill, due to be debated by the House of Commons on Tuesday and Wednesday, local councils in England and Wales will be given the power to let large stores open longer on a Sunday than the current six-hour limit. The plan is opposed by religious groups who want to keep the day reserved for worship and family time and some labor unions concerned about workers’ rights.
David Cameron’s Conservative Party has survived most of its first year governing on its own without suffering a defeat in the Commons. But the prime minister’s working majority is just 17, which makes him vulnerable to small rebellions by his lawmakers if they ally with opposition parties. More generally, the Tories are split over Europe, with many lawmakers determined to defy Cameron and back a British exit from the European Union in the referendum the premier’s called for June 23.
“We have cross-party support,” David Burrowes, the Tory leading the opposition to the measure, said in an interview Monday. “The government should recognize the strength of opposition for a plan that was not in our manifesto and should at least agree a compromise which restricts deregulation to tourist zones.” He said unnamed government ministers and parliamentary aides are prepared to resign over the issue.
If Osborne does amend the plans, it would be his second retreat in the space of a week. On Saturday, the Treasury dropped the idea of removing pension tax breaks from wealthier savers.
The opposition Labour Party is pledged to vote against the Sunday trading liberalization, and the Scottish National Party, the third largest bloc in Parliament, has yet to set out its view. “They may be won over by unions and lawyers telling them not to sell out Scottish workers,” Burrowes said. While there are no restrictions on Sunday trading in Scotland, the SNP might be persuaded to join an anti-Osborne bloc for political reasons.