ouncils and police are being urged to “turn a blind eye” to pubs opening early for the women’s football World Cup final.
MPs have called on the authorities to ignore instances of publicans serving outside of their usual Sunday hours, after warnings that licensing rules mean leave some venues unable to serve pints or open early for excited fans on the day.
In Cornwall, the local council and police have already announced they will not take enforcement action for early opening during the big match.
An average of 4.6 million people tuned in on a working day to watch the Lionesses progress to their first ever World Cup final with the win being the most-watched game of the tournament so far.
England’s women will play Spain at 11am on Sunday in their first World Cup final after beating hosts Australia on Wednesday.
Current regulations mean the sale of alcohol is widely prohibited before 10am on Sunday, but venues such as pubs also have specific hours they can stay open and serve alcohol depending on individual licences.
A blanket change to licensing hours across England would require the approval of Parliament, which is not currently sitting as it is the summer recess – and demands for an emergency recall to Westminster have been dismissed.
Conservative MP Sir Michael Fabricant has instead suggested his local police force “turn a blind eye” to any pubs opening early for Sunday’s World Cup final.
In a letter to Staffordshire Police Chief Constable Chris Noble and Staffordshire police and fire commissioner Ben Adams, the Lichfield MP wrote: “As you know, the Women’s World Cup Final will be held at 11am (BST) on Sunday.
“I think it would be a marvellous gesture if pubs could be allowed to open early and, although this would be contrary to the law, the police might turn a blind eye on this one occasion only.”
Sir Michael said in a statement: “I think now is the time for the police to show discretion to allow pubs and other venues to open early allowing people to cheer on our wonderful Lionesses in the company of others. I hope other police forces might show similar flexibility too – on this particular Sunday.”
Labour shadow minister Stephen Morgan agreed pubs should be given flexibility with their Sunday hours.
“I think they’ve got to be flexible, let’s be sensible. I think it makes sense,” he told Times Radio.
Communities Secretary Michael Gove wrote to councils on Thursday, asking them to do everything they can to help venues seeking to extend their hours for the game.
In response, Cornwall Council and Cornwall and Devon Police have confirmed they will not be enforcing licence conditions for pubs who open earlier than they would usually be allowed.
Linda Taylor, leader of Cornwall Council, said: “Although it is too late to issue licences to allow our pubs and clubs to open, this is a sensible way forward, ensuring their businesses can benefit from the occasion, and so people can come together to enjoy the match together. I am delighted the police are supporting this move as well.”
One publican in Stoke on Trent described Mr Gove’s letter to councils as “too little too late”.
Victoria Mavin, who runs The Bellringer pub in Stoke-on-Trent, also told the PA News Agency: “Historically the Government have made allowances for moments in history where they have relaxed licencing law – they have amended slightly, there is a blanket rule,” she said.
“If this isn’t a moment in history then I don’t know what is.”
Ms Mavin told the PA news agency allowances were made in the early 2000s for the Men’s World Cup, for the jubilee and for the coronation.
She added: “From my point of view you can’t help thinking that had it been a Men’s World Cup that somebody somewhere would have already noticed that actually these were the timings of it, this is what we could potentially put in place.
“It’s just a shame that we’re at the 11th hour and only now we’re talking about it.”
The Home Office has written to police chiefs encouraging them to work with councils to ensure as many venues as possible can open.
Most pubs are likely to be unable to serve alcohol until 11am, and are unlikely to have had time for a temporary event notice (TEN) allowing to vary their hours to be processed.
A spokesperson for the Local Government Association said: “Councils up and down the country are flying flags, lighting up buildings and hosting free screenings of the game on Sunday to mark this historic and exciting occasion.
“Licensing teams are working hard to ensure temporary event notices that were submitted with the legally required amount of notice are processed as efficiently as possible, but councils can only work within the existing law.”
James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, has meanwhile announced he will attend the match in Australia on Sunday alongside Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer.
“All eyes are on Sydney this Sunday,” he said ahead of the final.
“This is an amazing moment to celebrate the very best of women’s international sport with Australia and New Zealand as our brilliant tournament hosts.
“Everyone back home is behind the Lionesses for their first appearance ever in a World Cup final, and I will be there in person to cheer them on.”