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Ministers To Hold Cobra Meeting On Strikes, Gove Criticises New York Times, Brexit Bill Paused


6 min read

Ministers will hold an emergency Cobra meeting on Monday as the country braces for a wave of strikes this week among staff from the NHS, transport networks, Royal Mail and Border Force.

The meeting will be chaired by Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden, who has warned that “the stance the unions have taken will cause disruption for millions of hardworking people”.

He has urged unions to call off the strikes taking place across December, which are expected to cause major disruption.

"The government will do all it can to mitigate the impact of this action, but the only way to stop the disruption completely is for union bosses to get back round the table and call off these damaging strikes,” he said.

"I will be chairing a series of Cobra meetings over the coming weeks to ensure our plans are as robust as possible, and that disruption is kept to a minimum."

A formal request has been made to the Ministry of Defence for military troops to be trained to drive ambulances, but Sky News reports that no decision has been made on whether to mobilise the army to plug gaps in services.

Here are all the strikes happening this week:

Monday 12 December

  • Unison members working for the NHS in Northern Ireland go on strike.

Tuesday 13 December

  • More than 40,000 RMT rail workers will walk out over 48 hours, affecting Network Rail and 14 train operators.
  • Members of the Public and Commercial Services union across government will begin a series of staggered strikes, starting with the Rural Payments Agency.

Wednesday 14 December

  • The 48-hour RMT strike enters its second day.
  • Around 115,000 members of the Communication Workers Union go on strike, affecting Royal Mail services.

Thursday 15 December

  • 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing will go on strike between 8am and 8pm, affecting 65 NHS organisations.
  • Royal Mail workers strike for a second day.
  • Bus drivers in London who are members of Unite will go on strike, affecting services operated by Abellio within the Transport for London network.

Friday 16 December

  • RMT members will hold a second 48-hour strike, affecting rail networks.
  • RMT working as security staff for Eurostar will begin a four-day strike.
  • Bus drivers in London who are members of Unite will go on strike, affecting services operated by Abellio and Metroline within the Transport for London network.
  • Around 350 ground staff at Heathrow Airport, who are members of Unite over pay disputes with their contractor Menzies. The strike will start at 4 am and last 72 hours, causing some flight disruption.
  • Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union working for National Highways to go on strike, affecting highways in the North West, Yorkshire, and North East.

Saturday 17 December

  • Unite members who work at the Highlands and Islands airports in Scotland will go on strike, affecting 11 local airports.

  • RMT rail strike enters its second day.
  • RMT Eurostar strike enters its second day.
  • Heathrow Airport ground staff strike enters its second day.

Sunday 18 December

  • Heathrow Airport ground staff strike enters its third day.
  • RMT Eurostar strike enters its third day.

Keir Starmer says nurses pay rise demands “more than can be afforded”

Keir Starmer

Labour leader Keir Starmer has said it is “bizarre” that ministers have refused to hold talks with nursing unions over pay rise demands.

He told LBC Radio that the government had shown a "profound lack of leadership" by failing to negotiate with nursing unions, and accused ministers of "sitting this one out".

"I do accept that what they are asking for is probably more than can be afforded, I am not going to pretend otherwise, but get round the table, resolve it,” he said.

Over the weekend, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it was willing to call off the upcoming strikes if ministers agreed to talks on pay.

But the government has insisted that pay is a matter for independent regulators, and refused to commit to discussing the matter in future talks.

The RCN is calling for a pay rise at 5 per cent above inflation, which could mean a potential pay rise of 19 per cent if their demands are met.

Michael Gove calls New York Times “useful idiots” over Trojan horse controversy

Michael Gove

Levelling up minister Michael Gove has criticised a New York Times podcast which looks at claims of Islamic extremism at Birmingham schools.

In a report for the Policy Exchange think tank, he claimed that ‘The Trojan Horse Affair’ podcast – which aired earlier this year and was linked to the New York Times – was “replete with errors and omissions”.

It follows events which took place between 2013 and 2014, when an anonymous letter sent to a Birmingham councillor claimed that Islamic extremists were trying to infiltrate local schools.

The podcast is heavily critical of Gove, who was education secretary at the time, and suggests he was repeatedly warned that the original letter was “bogus” by authorities.

In the report’s foreword, Gove and Nick Timothy, his special adviser at the time, claim that it was “dangerous” not to consider that Islamic extremism existed in the education sector.

Gove said in the report’s foreword that the podcast portrays the UK “as an insular backwater whose inhabitants are drowning in a tide of nostalgia, racism and bad food”.

“The notion that the events in Birmingham had nothing to do with extremism is as dangerous as it is false, since it conceals an ugly truth that too many prefer not to acknowledge: we have a problem in Britain with Islamist ideology and its adherents, who seek to impose their intolerant values on Muslim communities, including children, through non-violent means including the capture of important institutions such as schools,” the foreword read.

The report’s authors argue that the government did not do enough to follow up on concerns over extremism in schools across the UK.

Brexit bill to be paused amid hopes of a new deal

Rishi Sunak

Progress on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill has reportedly been paused as UK-EU talks lead to hopes of a new deal.

The legislation, which gives the UK powers to unilaterally suspend aspects of the protocol, was due to return to the Lords in 2022.

However, senior officials have told The Times that its progress will be paused to avoid disrupting private talks with the EU.

There are hopes that a new agreement with the bloc could be reached by February.

Rishi Sunak will likely face backlash from Tory MPs if the bill is delayed, with members of the European Research Group (ERG) likely to express opposition.

A government source told The Times that Oliver Lewis, a prominent member of the Vote Leave campaign, has been brought in to mediate with the ERG “to reassure them they are being listened to and are in the loop”.

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