Supermarkets in fresh drive to extend pre-Christmas Sunday trading hours

Supermarket bosses have launched a fresh lobbying drive to extend Sunday trading hours ahead of a Christmas shopping rush that they are warning ministers could put customers’ safety at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sky News has learnt that major grocers including J Sainsbury and Wm Morrison have been urging the government in recent weeks to enable thousands of their stores to open for more than six hours on Sundays in December.

The move would require primary legislation, with previous efforts to extend Sunday opening times drawing fierce opposition from MPs and retail unions.

An executive at one chain said on Tuesday the effort to persuade ministers was "not about our P&L but about customers' health and safety".

Another supermarket manager said the industry's lobbying campaign looked likely to fail.

"They haven't said an outright 'no', but they have said it's very difficult," the manager said.

In June, The Times reported that larger supermarkets would be allowed to open for longer on Sundays for a year under emergency legislation being drawn up by Boris Johnson's government, but the proposal attracted immediate opposition from dozens of Conservative MPs.

David Cameron's bid to abolish Sunday trading laws failed in 2016 after dozens of Tory MPs rebelled.

Major British food retailers have seen sales surge during the pandemic, sparking criticism of their acceptance of a business rates holiday in a year when they have continued to pay big dividends to shareholders.

None of the supermarkets contacted by Sky News would comment on Tuesday.