An appeal by supermarket chief executives to relax Sunday trading laws over Christmas has been refused by the government.

In a joint letter to the business minister Michael Fallon, Morrisons chief executive Dalton Philips and Asda chief executive Andy Clarke had called for an extension to opening hours on Sunday December 23, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year, similar to that of the eight-week period during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

It said: “Our analysis, over a number of years, shows that in the seven days prior to our early closing on Christmas Eve, December 23 sees the largest footfall of customers and transactions at the checkout. In effect, it is our busiest trading day.”

However, the government refused on the grounds that new legislation would be required for another temporary suspension and that it “has no further plans for a relaxation of the regulations”.

“The government suspended the Sunday trading laws during this year’s Olympics, so that retailers could take advantage of the unique opportunity the games presented,” a Department for Business Innovation and Skills spokeswoman said. “The suspension of the law only applied to the specified period, from July 22 to September 9. If the government wanted to look at this again there would be an opportunity for wider debate and new legislation would be required.”