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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Top Stories: Rail Strikes Suspended, Rishi Sunak Announces Wales Freeports

RMT boss Mick Lynch (Alamy)

5 min read

The RMT, which represents rail workers, has suspended strike action as talks on pay and conditions are continuing with the union and transport industry body, the Rail Delivery Group.

Walkouts across 14 train companies were scheduled for 30 March and April 1 but have now been called off after the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) tabled a proposal that the RMT said “could lead to a resolution”. 

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, the RMT said they would continue discussions with the RDG with the "view to securing a new offer on pay, job security and working conditions".

The union’s dispute with Network Rail was resolved earlier this week, when members voted to accept a pay deal. 

Unions across several industries have suspended or paused their strikes in recent weeks, as negotiators try to settle disputes over pay and conditions. 

Last week, the National Education Union (NEU) said that it would not be announcing any further strike dates while talks were ongoing with the Department for Education. 

Ballots and consultations are soon likely on the NHS pay offer put forward by the government last week, which the Department of Health said would see a one-off payment plus a pay rise that would mean a newly qualified nurse would receive 5.5 per cent more. 

Rishi Sunak and Mark Drakeford announce Welsh freeports 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to meet Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford today, as they have jointly announced the locations of two new freeports.  

The pair are expected to carry out joint visits to confirm that sites in Anglesey and Port Talbot and Milford Haven have been selected to host the ports. 

Freeports are designed to try and stimulate greater economic activity in an area around a shipping port or an airport, and have different economic rules to elsewhere. 

Goods that arrive in the UK via freeports are exempted from tariffs usually paid to the government, and firms that operate on the sites are able to claim lower property taxes. 

“Wales is a thriving part of the UK, and today’s new Freeports will see businesses and opportunities for people in and around Anglesey, Port Talbot and Milford Haven go from strength to strength," Sunak said in a statement confirming the move. 

“Everyone deserves equality of opportunity and working closely with the Welsh government has helped to deliver these fantastic new sites.”

Drakeford said that his government has a “clear” mission to create a “a stronger, fairer and greener future”, and added: “The designation of these sites as Wales’ first freeports will reinforce that mission, building on the significant investments and partnerships we have made in these regions over many years.”

Keir Starmer say he has “unfinished business” in tackling crime

Keir Starmer plans to declare Labour is "the party of law and order" today, outlining plans to tackle violent crime and raise public confidence in the justice system.

He argues that the Conservatives are “out of touch” in some of the country’s communities and will commit to halve serious violent crime if he becomes prime minister at the next election.

In a speech in the Midlands on Thursday morning, the former Director of Public Prosecutions intends to focus on four key areas: confidence in the police forces, solving crime, knife crime, and violence against women and girls.  

Starmer, who served as DPP for five years before becoming an MP, will pledge "one rule for all,' meaning that "everyone" should be protected and respected by the criminal justice system and that nobody should be above the law. 

"Not the murderers of Stephen Lawrence – who, for a time, thought they were, not Al-Qaeda terrorists, and not MPs, Labour or Conservative, gaming the expense system to line their pockets. I prosecuted them all and I'm proud of that," he is expected to say. 

"Yes, it's Labour's plan to tackle the crime wave gnawing away at our collective sense of security – of course it is. But it's also unfinished business in my life's work to deliver justice for working people.”

Boris Johnson "fighting for future" after privileges committee hearing

Boris Johnson was described as “in peril” and “fighting for his political future”, following his hours-long session giving evidence to the Privileges Committee over whether he misled the House of Commons over partygate. 

Johnson told MPs that “hand on heart” he did not lie to MPs on the record, but Thursday morning's newspapers suggest that his career could still be far from safety. 

The Times described Johnson as "fighting for his political future" following the "fractious three and a half hour hearing", while the i said the former prime minister is "in peril" after the "angry clashes" in the committee room. The Guardian front page suggests he is "on the brink". 

The committee of seven  MPs – including four Conservatives – are trying to establish whether the former prime minister misled Parliament when he said that rules and guidance had been followed in Downing Street during a number of events in lockdown, which has since been proven not to be the case. 

They will now consider the evidence they have before they make any recommendations. 

An opinion piece in the Telegraph described Wednesday afternoon’s events as “last days of Rome-ish” as the committee hearing and the vote on the Stormont Brake element of Rishi Sunak’s new Windsor Framework Brexit deal played out at the same time in Parliament. 

“Not only had a major Tory rebellion on the Windsor Framework spectacularly failed to materialise but here too was Brexit’s blond-haired poster boy struggling to take back control of his own political future,” said the paper’s Camilla Tominey. 

 

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