A last-ditch move to spare George Osborne a Tory rebellion over Sunday trading laws has been stymied by the Commons Speaker, HuffPostUK has learned.
John Bercow has decided not to select an 11th-hour Parliamentary device that the Government had hoped would avoid a defeat on the controversial plans to relax retail opening hours.
Ministers had tabled a very late 'manuscript amendment' to allow a pilot scheme - in 12 areas, with the promise of a review after a year - before full implementation of the plan to devolve powers over Sunday trading.
The rare move would have effectively 'knocked out' a rebel amendment to oppose the planned changes.
But to the delight of a coalition of Labour, Tory rebels and SNP MPs, the Speaker has decided not to select the amendment.
As a result, a crunch amendment by Conservative MP David Burrowes will now be the flashpoint for the legislation - with whips on all sides describing the result as being 'too close to call'.
If there is a Government defeat it will be a huge blow to George Osborne, who has led the drive to relax the opening hours since the general election.
The Chancellor, backed by Business Secretary Sajid Javid, believed it was time to give shoppers more choice at the weekends and insist that the plans only go ahead if local areas want them.
However, he has faced a backlash from trade unions and Christian groups who want to 'keep Sunday special' and protect family life for retail workers.
MPs are furious that ministers today tried their last-minute move despite having worked on the plans for many months. Coming just a week before the Budget, a Government defeat would be a bitter personal blow to Mr Osborne.
Mr Burrowes tabled his amendment as soon as the Enterprise Bill came out of committee.
"Cameron and Osborne have had weeks to sort this out and try to find a solution. And they table a manuscript amendment in a last-ditch effort to avoid defeat," said one Commons insider.
Critics were furious that the Government inserted the Sunday trading changes to the bill after it had already passed through the House of Lords, where many Bishops and crossbenchers would have opposed it.
Plans to let shops open longer on Sunday were plunged into doubt last night after the Scottish National Party renewed its pledge to vote against the flagship Government policy.
SNP MPs decided “unanimously” to oppose proposed new trading laws, which will be voted on tomorrow, despite suggestions they could U-turn and back the move.
Ministers had hoped the Nationalists would abstain since the move does not affect shops north of the border. However, the SNP argues it will put Scottish workers at the risk of pay cuts as firms roster more staff on a Sunday.
Since the Government has a slim notional majority of 17 MPs, the SNP joining forces with Labour, and 20 rebel Tory MPs, throws the proposed legislation into jeopardy - embarrassing the Chancellor who has hailed the reform for boosting jobs.