Sunday trading defeat embarrassing for George Osborne

MPs in the House of Commons Image copyright House of Commons


After some moments of political pantomime, when the government's hoped for compromise to keep shops open longer on Sundays in England and Wales emerged too late to allow MPs to vote for it (believe me, you don't want me to go on about starred amendments and manuscript amendments) the idea has just been chucked out by MPs, and chucked out with gusto.

The plans were defeated by a majority of 31. Ministers may well try again to get the idea through, perhaps through the House of Lords.

But what has just happened might have some consequences beyond whether shops can actually open for longer.

The reason the government lost by such a margin was not just because of staunch opposition from the Labour Party with its 'Keep Sunday Special' campaign, or the principled opposition from many Tory MPs, led by David Burrowes, who believe fervently that Sundays are indeed special and should be protected.

But the government lost also because the SNP also objected to their plans, even though in Scotland shops have opened for longer on Sundays for many years. It is an embarrassing defeat for the government and particularly George Osborne, who must deliver the Budget a week today.

But the SNP's involvement could have a longer term impact. The SNP say their opposition is down to concerns that expanding Sunday opening in England and Wales would threaten extra pay Scots workers get for working those days. But with a majority of MPs from England and Wales backing the move, Scottish politicians have just blocked a reform that has already taken place in their constituencies.

Ministers have already described the SNP's move as "shameful", even with suggestions of hypocrisy. And the SNP's actions may sow the seeds of resentment around the rest of the Chamber.

This is only the second defeat in the Commons so far for the government since the general election. And it is notable because it was delivered by a combination of Labour, the SNP and Tory rebels - and that alliance could work together again and spoil the government's fun on other issues.

PS Just for good measure, the government has just been defeated in the House of Lords over the Immigration Bill.

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