Rail union should 'take offer seriously' ahead of strikes, says No 10 - live updates

Mick Lynch - Toby Melville/Reuters
Mick Lynch - Toby Melville/Reuters

The majority of Britons oppose the RMT's proposed industrial action on the rail network between Christmas Eve and December 27, new polling has found.

Thirty-two per cent of people strongly oppose the strikes and 19 per cent somewhat oppose the walkout, according to a YouGov survey this afternoon.

Some 19 per cent somewhat support the strikes and 18 per cent strongly support, while some 12 per cent said they do not know either way.

The RMT announced yesterday that a fresh series of strikes will take place from December 24 through to December 27. This is in addition to the strikes that were already due to take place on December 13, 14, 16 and 17. More are scheduled for January 3, 4, 6 and 7.

Earlier, Downing Street urged the RMT union to take its latest pay offer "seriously" and labelled the announcement of the new strikes "incredibly disappointing". It added the new compromise presented to rail workers was "generous and fair".

06:58 PM

That's all for today...

Rishi Sunak urged Mick Lynch and the RMT to think again about bringing misery to millions this Christmas.

Mr Lynch admitted this morning the planned rail strikes over Christmas would do "real damage" as public opinion appeared to shift further against the walkouts.

Thirty-two per cent of people strongly oppose the strikes and 19 per cent somewhat oppose the walkout, according to a YouGov survey released this afternoon.

Mr Sunak's official spokesman called the fresh action "incredibly disappointing" in the wake of a "generous and fair" settlement presented to Mr Lynch and other union chiefs who refused to budge.

It is bound to be one of the prominent themes of tomorrow's Prime Minister's Questions, which my colleague Jack Maidment will be taking you through tomorrow.

06:18 PM

Huge questions to answer, claims Labour MP

Dawn Butler, the Labour MP for Brent Central, said it was a "mystery" what had happened to much of the procurement money handed out during Covid.

She flagged a thread on her Twitter "where there are huge questions [needing] to be answered... but the Government needs to open up its books".

The Labour MP added: "Of course we accept that mistakes were made, and some of them were unavoidable, but the Health Department didn't do the checks it was supposed to do."

05:56 PM

Government 'proud of everything we achieved'

Will Quince told the Commons the Government had enough stock to cover all future Covid-related demands and the PPE supply chain was "strengthened for the long-term".

"We have learnt many lessons from this pandemic and when it comes to PPE, we are in a stronger footing today than ever before.

"But the successes of our enormous national effort at a time of unprecedented national crisis deserve to be recognised. People from all walks of life came together to protect the NHS... This Government will remain proud of everything we achieved."

05:51 PM

Health minister: Lessons to learn on procurement

Civil servants did not got everything right "but did try their best" in sourcing procuring and distributing PPE, Will Quince insisted.

"I would just very, very gently say to the honourable lady that her implied criticism of their professionalism, integrity and independence, at a time of crisis, now, with the convenience and luxury of hindsight, is deeply regrettable."

Angela Rayner called him "disingenuous" and argued civil servants did "an excellent job", asking why the Government would not publish ministerial and MP emails.

Told by Dame Meg Hillier the Government was given "permission to act fast - but not to act fast and loose", Mr Quince denied any hint of a cover-up and flagged evidence sessions and a review of procurement.

"Of course there are lessons that we have to learn and can and should learn, but there is clear accountability in this process."

05:33 PM

Labour's 'cheap shot entirely misses the point'

Will Quince said thousands of companies made PPE offers, around 430 were processed through the VIP lane and only 12 per cent of these resulted in a contract.

Ministers were not involved in the decision-making process, and it was a team of over 400 civil servants that processed referrals and undertook due diligence tests.

So on that basis, we'll make no apology for procuring PPE at the pace and volume that we did. And now that the global market for PPE has stabilised I know it's easy for some people to point to the value of goods that are inevitably now sold at a lower price than we paid.

It is a cheap shot that entirely misses the point.

05:30 PM

Britons would not have forgiven PPE shortages, says minister

Will Quince, the health minister, urged Labour to "cast their minds back to where we three years ago, as we stood on the precipice of a public health emergency".

"In a matter of a few short weeks, this novel coronavirus pushed global health systems and global PPE supply chains to near breaking point."

Told to "fess up" by Labour MP Karl Turner, Mr Quince accused him of showing "lots of aggression".

"Under those circumstances, in those conditions, we had to be quick and decisive to protect colleagues on the frontline so they could continue providing lifesaving care. But with lives on the line, of course we had to change our approach to procurement and adjust our appetite for risk.

"I don't believe that the British people would have forgiven us if we'd have stuck to the same old processes. We had to balance the risk of contracts not performing and supplies being sold at a premium against the real risk of health to the harm of the frontline workers, the NHS and the wider public if we failed."

05:23 PM

'Let's end the cover-up, and begin the clean-up'

Angela Rayner lamented the "WhatsApp highway express" that "allowed Conservative politicians to open doors for anyone with connections to ministers".

"It didn't have to be this way. Governments across the world responded to the Covid emergency without wasting millions of taxpayers' money and relying on dodgy backroom deals."

Dame Angela Eagle intervened to claim that, with the benefit of hindsight, the Commons would not have allowed the Government its procurement powers at the height of the pandemic.

"The public feel that and many Conservative voters are absolutely shocked by what they've seen this Conservative government do," Ms Rayner said. "A vote for this motion is a vote in favour of the truth.

"This Government has presided over scandal after scandal, that has engulfed their party. Voting today for yet another cover-up will send another very clear message to the public - that this Prime Minister cares more about protecting vested interests than putting things right.

"So I say today, and I hope the benches opposite are listening, let's end the cover-up and begin the clean-up, and start it now."

05:15 PM

Rayner accuses Tories of destroying public trust

Angela Rayner told the Commons it was "the only logical conclusion" the Government had "something to hide."

"The public deserve answers on whether the dodgy lobbying at the heart of this scandal played a part in how vast sums of taxpayer cash has been wasted, and whether shameful profiteering has been enabled by this Government."

Ms Rayner asked whether the "few [Tory MPs] that are in will vote for a clean-up, or another cover-up".

"The question for the House to ask is whether to act to prevent a repeat. Learn your lesson, don't let this shameful episode be repeated. The loss and trauma of the pandemic was immense. Millions of families lost loved ones, some only getting to say goodbye via iPad as mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and friends slipped away.

"And then we learn that, throughout this trauma, companies with WhatsApp links to ministers were given special VIP access to contracts which have seen billions poured down the drain. This Government has done untold damage to the public's faith in politics."

05:10 PM

What have ministers got to hide, asks Angela Rayner

Angela Rayner said there was a simple question in play: "What have ministers opposite got to hide?

"Did they know all along who was behind the PPE Medpro, or was due diligence so poor that they did not realise the problem?

"If they had nothing to hide, and no rules or laws were broken, then ministers will surely be happy to make the details of the meetings and the correspondence available."

She also requests clarity from the Government on allegations made by Matt Hancock, the former Health Secretary, in relation to Baroness Mone - in response to which she was reprimanded by Dame Rosie Winterton, the Deputy Speaker.

05:08 PM

Department for Health still in dispute on 176 contracts

Dame Meg Hillier, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, observed the Department for Health "remains in dispute" on 176 PPE contracts, worth a combined £2.7 billion.

In her reply, Angela Rayner took aim at the "eye-watering" and "astonishing" figure.

"The public can see this and they are frustrated because it is not accepted, it is not okay to govern in that way and the public rightly want answers, and they want them now."

05:05 PM

'None, zilch, zero'

Angela Rayner said it was for the authorities to decide whether any law was broken by Baroness Mone.

"We do know that PPE Medpro was referred to the VIP lane by a sitting member of the Cabinet after lobbying by another Tory politician... five days before it was even registered as a company," she added.

The deputy Labour leader recalled the "frustration" of businesses who had their PPE applications rejected by the NHS.

Dr Kieran Mullan, the Tory MP for Crewe & Nantwich, hit back by saying Labour themselves had recommended "a whole series of people that could supply vital things for us during the pandemic, vital supplies, including a football agent supplying ventilators. What assessment has the chair made of the Labour Party's own suggestions of supplies during the pandemic?"

In turn, Ms Rayner asked how many MPs across the House who were not Conservatives had access to the VIP lane, before answering: "None, zilch, zero, and this is the problem because the due diligence wasn't done on those contracts."

04:56 PM

Baroness Mone debate starts in the Commons

MPs were reminded "reflections must not be cast upon members of either House of Parliament, except on a substantive motion" before Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, was called to the Despatch Box.

"The motion before the House is very simple - this is a plea for answers, a plea for clarity and a plea for the truth," Ms Rayner said. "And the choice that the House makes today is simple too. Our demand is clear too. End the cover-up and begin the clean-up."

Railing against some of the outcomes of the so-called 'VIP lane' for PPE procurement during the pandemic, she noted tens of thousands of items were now being burned or in some cases recycled, with billions spent on storing excess stocks.

"We don't even know where exactly our money ended up. But we do know that if ministers get their way, this scandal could be repeated... enriching fraudsters at the expense of taxpayers and creating a mountain of waste."

04:51 PM

How Nicola Sturgeon is losing control

By the end of today, the SNP group at Westminster will have a new leader who will succeed Ian Blackford, the "humble crofter"/ex investment banker who has led the party’s MPs since 2017, writes Tom Harris.

The candidates to replace him are Stephen Flynn, who represents Aberdeen South, and the Glasgow Central MP, Alison Thewliss.  At first glance, this contest looks pretty uninteresting.

Either candidate would do; they’re both intelligent and credible Commons debaters. It will be something of a relief – to the nation's eardrums if nothing else – if the eventual winner departs from Blackford’s modus operandi of starting off every Prime Minister’s Questions performance in fifth gear, bellowing ferociously about the latest perceived affront to the "sovereign will of the Scottish people".

But this change at the top of the party isn’t just about oratorical style; it is also about the future of the nationalist movement and the future of Nicola Sturgeon herself.

Tom Harris: The sign of weakness speaking volumes about Sturgeon

04:31 PM

Britain fifth-largest spender - but 'we do not get the fifth-best outcomes'

A "big, big" inquiry into prevention in the NHS will be launched next year, Steve Brine has announced.

Mr Brine, a former health minister and the Tory chairman of the health and social select committee, urged an "honest conversation" about how much of GDP should be spent on the NHS.

He added: "We're the fifth-largest spender on health services in the OECD. We do not get the fifth-best outcomes. The select committee will be in the new year launching a big, big inquiry into prevention."

On cancer prevention, he said: "At the moment we want to diagnose quickly. But of course you have to have symptoms to diagnose quickly and then we need to treat very quickly as well within the 28 days standard. We need to get upstream of that.

"And there are predictive medicines, biomarkers, some of the life sciences work that's going on in the genomics strategy that the NHS has at the moment. We need to bring that together and get very, very ahead of some of the illnesses that are driving ill health in our country. Because without that the NHS has long-term sustainability problems."

04:26 PM

'We are going to hold their feet to the fire'

The Environment Secretary has vowed to hold water companies' "feet to the fire" amid outcry over sewage spills.

Therese Coffey, who was speaking at the Defra select committee for the first time, told MPs: "I am very disappointed in several of the water companies. There were more powers that we created in the Environment Act last year, which we will be deploying to significantly increase transparency.

"We are going to hold their feet to the fire, candidly."

04:06 PM

Good afternoon

Dominic Penna here, the Telegraph's Political Reporter, guiding you through the rest of today.

Labour is forcing a vote this afternoon to secure the release of documents relevant to claims against Baroness Mone around PPE lobbying during the pandemic, which she firmly denies.

Earlier today, a spokesman for Tory peer confirmed she would be stepping back said: "With immediate effect, Baroness Mone will be taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords in order to clear her name of the allegations that have been unjustly levelled against her."

03:13 PM

Majority of voters oppose Christmas rail strikes

Just over half of voters - 51 per cent - are opposed to the RMT's proposed industrial action on the rail network between Christmas Eve and December 27.

A new YouGov poll found 32 per cent of people strongly oppose the strikes and 19 per cent somewhat oppose the walkout.

Some 19 per cent somewhat support the strikes and 18 per cent strongly support. Some 12 per cent said they do not know either way.

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03:06 PM

'Like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank'

Allowing a future Labour government to take control of how NHS funding is spent would be like "putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank", the Commons heard this afternoon.

Speaking in support of the Government, Conservative MP Paul Bristow said: "Does he accept that the £45.6 billion that has been invested in our health and social care is a phenomenal investment and the key to our challenge is to make sure that that money is spent wisely?

"If we had a situation where there was a Labour government in charge, making sure that that money was spent wisely, with their record of wasting public money it would be like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank.”

Health Secretary Steve Barclay agreed, and said the Government’s aim was spending the extra cash "in innovative and new ways in order to deal with the very real challenge that we face as a consequence of the pandemic".

02:26 PM

Steve Barclay hits back at Labour NHS criticism

Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, hit back at Wes Streeting's criticism of the Government's handling of the NHS (see the post below at 14.12).

He told the House of Commons: "He [Mr Streeting] didn't mention for example the Autumn Statement. You would have thought that was quite a significant thing, the extra £6.6billion of funding over the next two years into the NHS, something the NHS Confederation no less described as a settlement that was a 'positive day for the NHS'."

Mr Barclay said that "we are dealing... with the consequences of the pandemic and that is why we are investing in the increased checks, the increased scans, in the increased procedures - we will deliver an extra nine million of those by March 2025".

02:16 PM

Labour claims ministers planning to 'use nurses as scapegoats'

The Government intends to "use nurses as a scapegoat" for NHS failings this winter after "not even trying to stop the strikes going ahead", Wes Streeting has claimed.

Labour's shadow health secretary told the House of Commons: "Why is the Government not even trying to stop the strikes going ahead in the NHS? Surely when the NHS is already lacking the staff it needs to treat patients on time, the Government ought to be pulling out all the stops, getting round the table and negotiating to stop industrial action."

He added: "Why on earth are they not sitting round the table and conducting serious negotiations? I will tell you why – they know that patients are going to suffer this winter, they don’t have a plan to fix it, so instead of acting to improve care for patients and accept responsibility, they want to use nurses as a scapegoat in the hope that they avoid the blame.

"We can see it coming a mile off. It is a disgusting plan. It is dangerous. And it won’t work. And if I’m wrong, perhaps members opposite could explain why the Government is not trying to prevent the strikes from going ahead."

02:12 PM

Labour accuses the Government of 'disarming the NHS'

Wes Streeting warned the NHS is "facing the worst crisis in its history" as he opened an opposition day debate in the House of Commons on the state of the NHS workforce this afternoon.

The shadow health secretary said the NHS "has now fallen over".

"For the first time in the history of the NHS, people no longer feel certain when they phone 999 or arrive in A&E that they will be seen in time," he said.

"It’s the first time in our country’s history that people have not felt confident that emergency medicine will be there for them when they need it.

"The Government… sent the NHS into the pandemic with 100,000 staff shortages. They spent a decade disarming the NHS before sending it into the biggest fight it’s ever faced."

01:37 PM

Dominic Raab will stand again at next election

Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary and MP for Esher and Walton, will stand again at the next election, The Telegraph has learned.

Mr Raab's majority - which stands at 2,743 - fell by 13.5 per cent across the last two elections. The Liberal Democrats have made it clear Esher and Walton is one of their top target seats.

Mr Raab has now signed the nomination papers and is ready to run for a fifth time.

01:10 PM

Downing Street responds to food supply warnings

The National Farmers' Union has warned the UK is "sleepwalking" into a food supply crisis and the Government must step in to assist primary producers under severe strain from soaring fuel, fertiliser and feed costs.

Downing Street has now responded, insisting the UK has a "highly resilient food supply chain".

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman said: "The public should be reassured that the UK has a large and highly resilient food supply chain. We have strong food security thanks to significant domestic production, diverse sources of supply and inputs through stable routes.

"We already produce 60 per cent by value of all the food we need. And in recent years, we've seen production in sectors like poultry and fruit increase."

12:45 PM

300,000 housebuilding target 'remains the goal', says No10 after climbdown

A promise to build 300,000 new homes every year by the mid-2020s remains the Government's "goal", Downing Street has said, despite yesterday's climbdown over local housebuilding targets (see the post below at 07.48).

The Government watered down local housebuilding targets to avoid the first major Commons rebellion of Rishi Sunak’s premiership.

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: "The 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s remains our goal. The locally-agreed housing targets will remain an important part of the planning system.

"What we are doing is recognising that there are local circumstances where situations can be different and it is right to recognise them."

Pressed on whether it was a goal or a commitment, he said: "It remains the goal. I won’t get into the semantics of it, but it remains the goal to reach that by the mid 2020s."

12:30 PM

Downing Street blames pandemic for delay to anti-strike laws

Downing Street has blamed the coronavirus pandemic for its failure to get long-promised anti-strike laws onto the statute book.

The Government unveiled its Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill in October but it is yet to clear its first hurdle in the House of Commons and it is therefore still a long way from becoming law.

The Government has faced criticism for failing to act quicker on the legislation because it could have reduced disruption on the rail network this winter.

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said today: "We recognise no legislation will be in place to mitigate against the disruption we’re expecting to see next week. We are pushing ahead with minimum service level legislation. That’s the plan whether or not the unions step back from the planned disruption next week."

The spokesman blamed the pandemic for the delay to the legislation first promised in 2019 arguing the "global pandemic was the largest impact on this legislation".

12:12 PM

No10 urges RMT to take pay offer 'seriously'

Downing Street has urged the RMT to take the "generous and fair" pay offer it has been presented with seriously to prevent further disruption over the Christmas period.

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: "It’s incredibly disappointing that the RMT has chosen to take further damaging action instead of recognising this is a generous and fair deal that could have brought this dispute to an end.

"We believe the RMT need to take this offer seriously. We’ve been fair and reasonable in our approach. We’ve facilitated the sort of offer the RMT has been calling for, a fair pay rise with no compulsory redundancy.

"These additional strikes scheduled over Christmas mean the RMT risk driving away more people from the railways at a time when passengers and businesses should be taking advantage of this festive period. That will only add to the railways’ major funding issues that have to be put on a sustainable footing."

He said the deal offered contains no compulsory redundancies until 2025, a five per cent pay rise this year and four per cent from January.

12:09 PM

Union: 'Government will only have itself to blame' if NHS strikes go ahead

Unison said the Government "will only have itself to blame" if NHS strikes go ahead this winter after it was announced that thousands of ambulance workers will walk out on December 21 (see the post below at 12.02).

UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: "The Government will only have itself to blame if there are strikes in the NHS before Christmas.

"Ambulance staff and their health colleagues don’t want to inconvenience anyone. But ministers are refusing to do the one thing that could prevent disruption – that’s start genuine talks about pay.

"Wages are too low to stop health workers quitting the NHS. As more and more hand in their notice, there are fewer staff left to care for patients. The public knows that’s the reason behind lengthy waits at A&E, growing ambulance delays, postponed operations and cancelled clinics.

"Threatened NHS strikes in Scotland were called off because ministers there understand higher wages and improved staffing levels go hand in hand. Unfortunately, the penny’s yet to drop for the Westminster government."

12:02 PM

Ambulance workers to strike on December 21

Thousands of ambulance workers and other NHS staff are to strike on December 21 in a dispute over pay, the GMB, Unison and Unite unions have just announced.

Around 25,000 NHS workers will walk out at 10 of the 11 ambulance trusts across England and Wales. At some trusts strike action will take place for 24 hours.

It will be the biggest ambulance strike for 30 years.

You can read the full story here.

11:48 AM

Tory peer Baroness Mone takes ‘leave of absence’ from Lords amid PPE claims

Baroness Mone will take a leave of absence from the House of Lords with immediate effect.

The Tory peer is at the centre of controversy over her alleged links to a firm awarded a PPE contract.

A spokesman for Baroness Mone said: “With immediate effect, Baroness Mone will be taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords in order to clear her name of the allegations that have been unjustly levelled against her.”

The leave of absence means Lady Mone will not attend sittings of the House, vote on any proceedings and will not be able to claim any allowance.

The news came ahead of a debate in the House of Commons this afternoon as Labour tries to force the Government to release all advice and correspondence relating to the contract.

11:13 AM

'They could not have chosen worse days'

Baroness Vere, a transport minister, said the RMT’s announcement of more rail strikes this month was "deeply unhelpful".

She told delegates at a conference in Westminster organised by travel trade body Abta: "I just think it’s terribly disappointing.

"They could not have chosen worse days. You can imagine why they have done."

11:02 AM

How has the Government changed its planning reform proposals?

Rishi Sunak last night climbed down on key planks of his planning reforms in the face of rebellions by backbench Tories. This is what has changed:

  • No more compulsory housebuilding targets: The Government will make it clear that centrally-dictated targets are merely "advisory". They will become "a starting point, a guide that is not mandatory".

  • Fewer homes being built: The change on targets means councils will be allowed to build fewer homes than Whitehall believes are necessary if they can show that hitting the advisory targets would significantly change the character of an area.

  • More homes in urban areas: The Government's reforms will make it clear that more homes will be built in urban areas and in the North and the Midlands.

  • Crackdown on holiday homes: People could have to submit a change of use planning application if they want to use a property as a short-term let. Ministers are set to consult on the idea.

10:45 AM

Pictured: Suella Braverman arrives in Downing Street this morning

Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, is pictured in Downing Street this morning - Peter Nicholls/Reuters
Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, is pictured in Downing Street this morning - Peter Nicholls/Reuters

10:26 AM

Tories and Labour neck and neck on donations

The Tories and the Labour Party were neck and neck when it came to donations in the third quarter of this year, according to data published this morning by the Electoral Commission.

The Conservative Party accepted £2,890,867 while Labour accepted £2,839,756.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats accepted £1,366,827.

10:23 AM

Political parties accepted £11m in donations in third quarter

The UK's political parties accepted more than £11million in donations and public funds from July to September, according to new numbers published by the Electoral Commission this morning.

A total of £11.2million was donated to 19 parties. That compares similarly to what was donated in the same period in 2021.

Louise Edwards, the Electoral Commission’s director of regulation, said: "We are committed to protecting and promoting a transparent political finance system for voters, and publish the details of these donations so that everyone can see how parties are funded.

"Parties are legally required to check the donations they accept are from permissible sources and to report these to us. While these laws help voters to understand where political donations come from, reforms are needed to modernise and further safeguard the system. We have recommended for some time that the UK Government and Parliament work with us to improve donation controls and increase confidence in the UK’s political finance regime."

10:15 AM

Pictured: Unexpected arrival at No10 for Cabinet

A fox walks outside 10 Downing Street this morning - Peter Nicholls/Reuters
A fox walks outside 10 Downing Street this morning - Peter Nicholls/Reuters

10:13 AM

'Keir Starmer has probably handled this well'

Lord Hague, the former leader of the Conservative Party, was asked this morning if Gordon Brown is an "electoral asset" for the Labour Party after the former prime minister helped to write a report for Sir Keir Starmer on constitutional reform.

He told Times Radio: "I think voters want to see that a former leader is supportive, that the current leader is supported by former leaders, but not that they are taking orders from former leaders.

"So you have to give them something productive to do without actually saying you are going to do it, that you are going to do exactly what they say.

"Keir Starmer therefore has probably handled this well because that is what he has done with Gordon Brown. Go and write this report and then we might or we might not do it is really the Keir Starmer position, certainly on the House of Lords part of it."

09:08 AM

Pictured: Transport Secretary Mark Harper arrives in Downing Street for Cabinet

Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, is pictured arriving in Downing Street this morning - Kirsty O'Connor/PA
Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, is pictured arriving in Downing Street this morning - Kirsty O'Connor/PA

08:50 AM

Rail services on Christmas Eve to wind down earlier than normal because of strikes

Rail services on Christmas Eve will wind down earlier than normal as a result of new union strike action.

Asked if all scheduled passenger trains will run on Christmas Eve, Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT, said: "They will run up until the evening time. So, there is always a wind down of passenger services on Christmas Eve."

Asked if there would be more of a wind down because of the strikes, Mr Lynch told the BBC: "Yes, there will be."

The RMT has told its workers not to book on from 6pm on December 24.

08:42 AM

Union boss admits Christmas rail strikes will do 'real damage'

Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT union, was told that strikes on the rail network over the Christmas period will do "real damage" to people.

He told the BBC: "Yes and that is unfortunate but we have to respond to what the companies are doing and they are doing that very deliberately.

"They are seeking to ratchet up the dispute, they are escalating the dispute in some ways, by saying that we will impose these changes.

"If we do not respond then those changes will go through without a response from us and our members will have to suffer the consequences, including job losses and changes to their working lives that are unacceptable to them and that includes more unsocial hours and more weekend working."

08:36 AM

Rail union 'regrets the inconvenience' caused by strikes

The RMT "regrets the inconvenience" strike action will cause to people this December and January, Mick Lynch has said as he argued the Government is ultimately to blame for the walkouts.

"We regret the inconvenience that we are causing but this inconvenience is being caused by the Government who are running the playbook and the strategy for the railway companies and directing what is going on," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"They have held back even these paltry offers to the last minute so they know it is very difficult for us to deal with these offers."

08:30 AM

Mick Lynch: Working people are facing 'generalised attack'

Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT union, said workers in different parts of the economy are seeing their pay and terms and conditions "attacked" and that it would be "foolish" of unions not to coordinate their response.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "There is a generalised attack on working people where they are having their wages lowered against inflation and often their conditions ripped up… it is not just about pay, they are offering very paltry pay rises in return for chopping up terms and conditions and changes to working practices.

"So it feels like a general attack by the employers and by the Government and by organisations that are coordinating what they are doing, clearly, so it would be foolish of unions not to coordinate themselves in a response to those attacks."

08:09 AM

SNP MPs set to choose new Westminster leader

SNP MPs will meet later today to decide who should replace Ian Blackford as he steps down as the party's Westminster leader.

The SNP Westminster parliamentary group's AGM will take place this evening. Mr Blackford's successor is due to be announced between 7pm and 8pm.

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08:02 AM

Michael Gove defends watering down housebuilding targets

Housing Secretary Michael Gove said relaxing housebuilding targets “makes the Government look strong” as he defended the move.

Labour accused the Government of being "weak" after it gave into the demands of Tory rebels. But Mr Gove said: "I think it makes the Government look strong because we are delivering on the planning reform that we promised a year ago.

"When I arrived here I said that we wanted to have a planning system that put beauty and local democracy at the heart of our planning system, that is what we have got now thanks to close engagement with MPs who really care about getting the right homes in the right places."

07:56 AM

'It's a complete shambles'

The railway network is "absolutely crumbling" even without strike action, Angela Rayner has said as she accused the Government of presiding over a "complete shambles".

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, the Labour deputy leader said: "The system is absolutely crumbling without the strikes. Anyone who gets on a train now in the North knows that you’re praying if you’re going to get to where you need to get to. Many businesses are now losing staff because they can’t get to work.

"It’s a complete shambles of the Government’s making and they really need to get off their hands and resolve this. I think there is a deal to be done.

"When I speak to the trade unions they’re very clear they do not want to go on strike, they want to resolve this dispute, it’s this Government that seems to want to ratchet it up and want to attack workers’ rights and cause this disruption."

07:52 AM

Angela Rayner describes the Government as 'militant' over response to strikes

Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, has labelled the Government "militant" over its handling of strike action this winter.

She told BBC Breakfast: "These people who are going on strike are going to lose pay, they will lose their pay at a time when they need it the most, they are not doing it at a drop of a hat."

She added: "This is a militant Government that is not dealing with the issues and not resolving this strike action, and it’s frustrating."

07:48 AM

Tories still 'committed to home ownership' despite watering down targets

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, has insisted the Tories are still "committed to home ownership" after the Government announced it is watering down housebuilding targets.

Rishi Sunak has ditched compulsory housebuilding targets for local areas after 60 Conservative MPs threatened to vote against his flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (you can read the full story here).

Mr Gibb told GB News: "These changes to the regeneration bill are ways of ensuring we have consent in local communities for more housebuilding.

"The Government is committed to building hundreds of thousands of houses a year and we had a record number of houses built, supplied, last year , over 200,000.

"As a party, the Conservative Party, we are committed to home ownership. We want young people to be able to get on the housing ladder and over the last four years we have had three of the highest numbers of new homes coming onto the market for young people and for the rest of the community."

07:39 AM

Minister accuses rail union of 'holding the country to ransom'

Schools minister Nick Gibb has accused the RMT union of "holding the country to ransom" after it announced further railway strike action for the Christmas period.

The new strikes will take place from December 24 through to December 27. This is in addition to the strikes that were already due to take place on December 13, 14, 16 and 17. More are scheduled for January 3, 4, 6 and 7.

Mr Gibb told GB News: "It’s a very disappointing decision by the RMT, they were offered a very good pay deal by the employers, eight per cent over two years, which is in line with the kind of pay deals that are happening  outside the public sector of between four and six per cent.

"So, I think the unions really should call off this strike. It’s inconveniencing people up and down the country in the run-up to Christmas, I think it’s a very poor way of conducting negotiations.

"We would urge the unions to talk to the employers, to keep negotiating and not to hold the country to ransom, particularly in December as we get nearer Christmas."

07:37 AM

Good morning

Good morning and welcome to today's politics live blog.

Strikes are back at the top of the agenda in Westminster after the RMT union announced further industrial action for the Christmas period.

Rishi Sunak will convene a meeting of his Cabinet in 10 Downing Street this morning and strikes will almost certainly be on the agenda as the Government faces growing pressure to step in and stop the nation from grinding to a halt.

I will guide you through the key developments on what promises to be a busy day.