Sports Direct have made a U-turn following backlash, after management told staff its stores would remain open despite the Prime Minister's lockdown announcement.

Management of the retailer Sports Direct said its stores would remain open, despite Boris Johnson's statement that non-essential stores will close, after suggesting its stores are vital in the UK's fight against coronavirus.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said he could notsee any justification for Sports Direct to stay open during coronavirus restrictions and did not consider it as essential work.

Speaking on Good Morning Britain, Mr Gove said Mike Ashley, the chief executive of Sports Direct, should "back off".

Earlier, Sports Direct came in for heavy criticism, with Labour's chairman telling the firm's majority owner Mike Ashley to "take some responsibility" and "shut up shop".

Management justified keeping stores open on the basis that selling sporting and fitness equipment makes the company a vital asset during a national shutdown.

In a letter to staff of Mike Ashley's Frasers Group, which includes Sports Direct and Evans Cycles, finance chief Chris Wootton said:

"We stock a huge range of sports equipment designed for exercising at home from yoga mats, gym balls, skipping ropes, weights, indoor and outdoor trampolines, resistance bands through to bikes, treadmills, rowing machines, static exercise bikes, multigyms, fitness clothing and footwear in order for people to remain fit and healthy during this period of isolation, indeed home fitness is the number one trending topic on social media after coronavirus itself.

"Against the backdrop of the closure of gyms the demand for these types of products has increased exponentially as the population looks to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

"Consequently, we are uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis and thus our Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores will remain open where possible to allow us to do this (in accordance with the Government's current social distancing guidance).

"There is no one else that has the range of product and range of stores to make this reasonably accessible for the whole population."

This was reportedly sent to staff 30 minutes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson's history address to the nation last night.

Sports Direct later tweeted a statement signed by finance chief Chris Wootton saying: "We would like confirmation as to whether our Sports Direct and Evans Cycle fascias should open in the morning?"

However, the company has now made a U-turn following intense backlash over social media and from politicians and it will now close its stores in line with the Prime Minister's address to the nation.