Andrea Leadsom in row with postal union over 'politically motivated' election strike threat
Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom has accused a major postal union of making a "politically calculated" bid to stop people voting in the general election.
The Communications Workers Union (CWU) is locked in a bitter industrial dispute with the Royal Mail over pay and conditions.
It has threatened a mass walkout in the run-up to the 12 December election - potentially putting the delivery of millions of postal votes at risk.
Ms Leadsom said: "CWU's threat to ruin Christmas and disrupt the postal system during the general election is just a preview of things to come if Jeremy Corbyn is ever allowed near the keys to Number 10.
"The timing of this threat is clearly politically calculated and would disrupt both the election and people's Christmas deliveries."
Almost one in five people opted for a postal vote in 2017, according to the Electoral Commission, with requests to cast ballots at home more common among elderly people.
Royal Mail bosses wrote to the union - which is affiliated to Labour - last week, urging them not to "threaten the integrity of our democracy".
But the Business Secretary's comments drew an angry response from the union, which pointed out that it had "not yet called action".
And in a statement on Twitter it said: "We had our ballot in play well before the election. Don't blame us for your incompetence."
The union added: "If you didn't privatise Royal Mail we wouldn't be here."
That view was echoed by Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey.
The Labour frontbencher said: "The choice at this election is clear: the Tories on the side of needless greed or Labour on your side.
"The Tories and Lib Dems sold off Royal Mail, hitting workers' jobs and living standards while the company has paid out £1bn to private shareholders.
"CWU members voted overwhelmingly to strike before the election was called. This is about workers improving their pay and conditions and the future of the postal service."
Royal Mail has meanwhile vowed to make the protection of postal ballots its "number one priority" if the union opts for strike action.
The firm's managing director of regulation and corporate affairs Shane O’Riordain said: "We will invest significant resource to seek to ensure a seamless process for the handling of postal election material.
“A binding commitment from the CWU to remove the threat of strike action during the period of any general election is vital to ensuring a seamless electoral process in relation to postal votes.”