Early evening summary
Labour has called for an inquiry into whether Nadhim Zahawi broke the ministerial code or misled the public over his tax affairs during his time as chancellor. But No 10 has defended Zahawi, the Conservative chair. (See 3.13pm.)
Keir Starmer has urged Rishi Sunak to apologise for ambulance waiting times and the “the lethal chaos under his watch”.
The NHS is facing a day of massive disruption next month when tens of thousands of nurses and ambulance staff strike on the same day in their ongoing pay dispute.
The UN agency for workers’ rights and the US labour secretary have distanced themselves from the UK government’s claims that its strikes bill has the “international seal of approval”.
Inflation in the UK fell for a second month in December but remained at one of the highest levels in 40 years, as a near 17% increase in the price of food kept pressure on households amid the cost of living crisis.
MPs have just started voting on a Labour amendment to the retained EU law (revocation and reform) bill that would change the date by which all remaining EU rules lapse, if a decision has not been made to reform or keep them, from the end of 2023 to 2026. The government is expected to win the vote comfortably.
Voters think Labour would do better job at delivering on Sunak's promises than Tories - even on removing illegal arrivals
The polling company Ipsos has released some interesting polling about Rishi Sunak’s five pledges. For each of the five pledges, Ipsos divided them into an “action” part (eg, halving inflation) and an “outcome” part (eg, easing the cost of living), and for all 10 it asked people if they thought a Conservative government led by Rishi Sunak, and a Labour government led by Keir Starmer, would do a good job or a bad job at delivering on them.
This chart shows the net results for each (good job minus bad job). There are more details in the Ipsos report.
There are three points that are particularly worth noting about these figures.
1) Labour are ahead on nine of the 10 points. The only area where people think the Tories will go a better job is at getting national debt falling. In its analysis, Ipsos says:
On most ‘action’ parts of the pledges, eg halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing the national debt, passing a law to stop small boats, there is little to choose in expected net performance between the Conservatives and Labour. The exception is on the NHS.
However, on several of the ‘consequences’ part of the pledges eg easing the cost of living, creating better paid jobs / opportunities across the country or securing the future of Britain’s public services, the public tend to be divided on whether Labour can deliver but on balance think the Conservatives cannot.
2) The Tories fare worse on the NHS, where people generally have little confidence they will cut waiting times. By contrast, Labour does best on this measure.
3) The poll suggests Labour is seen as more likely to legislate to stop small boat crossing, and to swiftly remove people who arrive in the UK illegally, than the Conservative party. Voters think both parties are more likely to do a bad job than a good job on these goals, but the net scores for the Tories are lower. What is extraordinary about this is that Labour has not promised small boats legislation, whereas Sunak has, and Labour is not even in favour of swiftly deporting all people who arrive in the UK illegally, whereas Sunak is. You could read this as evidence that polling is pointless, because people do not know what they are talking about. But a better interpretation might be that, when a party has lost the trust of the public, it does not get credit for anything, even when it might deserve it.
If this is correct, then there is probably no hope of a Tory recovery.
Former Tory leader William Hague says Brexit probably factor in collapse of Britishvolt
William Hague, the former Tory leader and foreign secretary when David Cameron was PM, has said that Brexit was probably a factor in the collapse of the Britishvolt battery startup company. In an interview with the News Agents podcast, Hague said it was “very concerning” that the company had gone into administration. He went on:
And it’s a sad reflection, probably, on Brexit because of course, what do you need in some of these technologies, you need scale, you need to know there’s a big market. If you are going to succeed with batteries, you need big manufacturers to be in the same market using those batteries.
So, that’s part of the damage that has been done by leaving the EU.
However, that’s not going to change. So, now we have to say, well, going for net zero technologies and levelling up in those regions and getting more investment into the British economy are mutually reinforcing objectives. But they need consistency and clarity from government.
Hague was seen as very Eurosceptic when he was elected Tory leader in 1997 – it was probably the key factor that led to him beating Ken Clarke – but by 2016 he was relatively pro-EU, compared to others in his party, and he voted remain.
At PMQs the Conservative MP Laura Farris asked Rishi Sunak if he thought that Tony Blair “had point when he said last year that the ‘big defect’ at the birth of the Labour party was its ties to organised labour”.
I’m grateful to dfic1999 in the comments below the line for flagging up the passage where Blair said that. John Rentoul quoted it in this article about a Q&A that Blair did with students at Kings College London. Rentoul wrote:
One asked how he would win an election for Labour today. “The first thing is to realise that the psychology of the country towards Labour and the Conservatives is different,” [Blair] said. “Unfortunately, if you look back on, what, 120 years of Labour’s existence, we’ve been in power for less than a third, roughly a quarter, of that time. And half of it was New Labour, and there are parts of the Labour party that are not too keen on remembering that part.
“So you can’t say Labour’s been a successful political project, really. Because if you take the 100 years before that, the Liberal party – which was then the alternative to the Conservatives – I think they were roughly equal in the time they spent in government.
“Personally, I think the big defect at the birth of Labour was to be tied to organised labour rather than to be broadly progressive. The separation of that liberal tradition of progressive politics and the Labour tradition is the thing I tried to cure in New Labour, but after I left people went back to the traditional roots of Labour, which I think was – and is – a mistake.
“The difference that makes to the psychology of the country towards the two parties is that the country looks at the Tories and thinks: ‘They only care about power.’ Now, if you’re Labour, you think: ‘That’s really bad; really unprincipled.’ But the public finds it curiously comforting. Because they think: ‘They only care about power, so they’re probably going to try to please me most of the time.’ So what we think is a point of criticism is really a point of reassurance.
“Now, when you come to Labour, Labour always thinks Labour’s problem is whether it’s principled enough. But the country knows we’re principled – oh yes, we’ve got those principles. And what they think is: ‘Yes, if it comes to the principles and me, they might just choose the principles.’ So what we find comforting they find puts them on guard.”
Extinction Rebellion activists pour black paint outside Gove’s office
Extinction Rebellion activists have chained themselves together at the entrance of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in London to protest against a new coalmine in Cumbria approved by its secretary, Michael Gove. My colleague Damien Gayle has the story here.
Former supreme court judge says legal challenge against blocking of Scottish gender recognition bill likely to fail
Lord Hope, a former deputy president of the supreme court, has said that he thinks the chances of the Scottish government getting the supreme court to overturn the UK government’s decision to block its gender recognition reform (GRR) bill are “very low”.
He told the BBC that he found the “statement of reasons” published yesterday explaining why the GRR bill undermined UK-wide equality law (which is reserved to Westminster) convincing and “devastating”, and he said the Scottish government would be wasting its time challenging it through judicial review. He said:
It seems to me you’re risking a lot of time, as it will take a long time to get to the supreme court, and also whether it’s a sensible use of public money.
It is open to question whether it is a wise decision from the prospects of success, which I would think were very low given the detail in the document that has been published.
But not all lawyers agree. In a long thread on Twitter yesterday, Charlie Falconer, the former Labour lord chancellor, said that most of the problems for UK law supposedly created by the Scottish bill, according to the statement of reasons, are minor or speculative, and that they do not justify overturning the legislation.
The thread starts here.
And here is his conclusion.
Senior Tories have privately voiced fears about a slew of concessions made by Rishi Sunak to rebels on planning, the environment and online safety, suggesting counter-rebellions may have to be organised, my colleague Jessica Elgot reports. She says:
Several former ministers have suggested they are worried about Sunak’s strategy and said the prime minister could find himself trapped between two wings of his party. Potential flash points include the retained EU law bill, the economic crime bill and the finance bill after the spring budget.
One warned that Sunak would risk seeing counter-rebellions emerging that could reignite old party tensions if the same concessions were seen on other issues such as Brexit, taxation or planning.
“We cannot have a situation where the prime minister is so frightened of his own party that 30 colleagues can get him to change his mind about anything,” one former cabinet minister said.
The full story is here.
No 10 defends Zahawi after reports he paid millions to settle tax dispute
At the post-PMQs lobby briefing the PM’s press secretary said that Rishi Sunak has full confidence in the Conservative party chair, Nadhim Zahawi, and takes him “at his word” over allegations around his tax affairs.
At PMQs, asked about the report that Zahawi has paid millions to settle a tax dispute, Sunak said Zahawi has “addressed this matter in full”. In fact, Zahawi has not confirmed the payments, or answered questions about the story, but just issued a statement saying he pays his taxes.
The PM’s press secretary defended this, saying Zahawi “has spoken and been transparent with HMRC”.
Asked if Sunak considered the matter closed, she said:
I don’t know whether the prime minister has reviewed it in full, but I do know that he takes Nadhim Zahawi at his word.
She also said that Sunak intended to publish his own tax return shortly.
Collapse of Britishvolt 'hammer blow' for government's levelling up strategy, MPs told
The collapse of electric vehicle battery startup Britishvolt into administration has been declared a “hammer blow” for levelling up during a debate in the Commons.
The company, which was planning to build a giant “gigafactory” near Blyth in Northumberland went into administration on Tuesday after talks with potential investors failed. The majority of its 300 employees were immediately made redundant.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson described the failure as a “tragedy” and a “hammer blow to the government’s levelling up policy”.
Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow business secretary, said that the government should take some of the blame. He said:
When the Britishvolt site was first announced in 2019 with the promise to build the UK’s second ever gigafactory and create 8,000 jobs in Northumberland, it was lauded by the government as their flagship example of levelling up.
Government ministers fell over themselves to take the credit and so now they must also accept some accountability for its failure, because, much like their levelling up strategy, all we have been left with is an empty space instead of what was promised.
The collapse of Britishvolt into administration is in no uncertain terms a disaster for the UK car industry, but what is even more worrying is that it’s a symptom of a much wider failure.
Energy minister Graham Stuart said the government’s decision not to hand promised investment to Britishvolt was because conditions “including private sector investments” were not met. He added:
Throughout the process, we’ve always remained hopeful that Britishvolt would find suitable investors and we’re disappointed that this hasn’t been possible.
We want to ensure the best outcome for the site, and we will work closely with the local authority and potential investors in order to achieve this.
Labour's Lloyd Russell-Moyle apologises for calling speech by Tory MP 'transphobic dog-whistle'
The Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle today apologised for describing a contribution from a Conservative backbencher as “one of the worst transphobic, dog-whistle speeches that I have heard in an awful long time”.
Russell-Moyle made the comment yesterday, as he was responding to a speech by Miriam Cates in which she said the Scottish gender recognition reform (GRR) bill could be exploited by “predators”.
Raising a point of order today, Russell-Moyle said he had written to Cates to apologise. He went on:
I stand by the words that I said and I profoundly disagree with the comments the honourable member made.
But our job as MPs is to channel passion and anger into considered debate to win our arguments. In this case, the trans community and devolution.
I recognise that I failed to control that passion during what was an emotional debate.
I should have expressed my deep disagreement on what I believe is an abhorrent view in a more appropriate way.
I want to particularly apologise to Madam deputy speaker [Dame Rosie Winterton] who had to preside over the debate.
In her speech Cates said predators would exploit the GRR bill. She said:
We should not be asking how easy it is for someone who is uncomfortable with their sex to obtain a GRC [gender recognition certificate]; we should be asking how easy it is for a predator to get access to children. The bill would make it vastly easier.
In response, Russell-Moyle said:
That speech was probably one of the worst transphobic dog-whistle speeches I have heard in an awfully long time. Linking the bill with predators is, frankly, disgusting, and you should be ashamed.
In the Commons MPs are debating the remaining stages of the retained EU law (revocation and reform) bill. Opening the debate Nusrat Ghani, a business minister, defended the decision in the bill to set 2023 as the preferred deadline for the removal of retained EU law from the UK statute book. (See 10.35am.) She said:
I cannot stress enough the importance of achieving this deadline, the deadline of 2023. Retained EU law was never intended to sit on the statute book indefinitely.
It is constitutionally undesirable as currently some domestic laws, including acts of parliament, remain subordinate to some retained EU law.
After Labour’s Stella Creasy criticised the way the bill allows ministers, not parliament, to decide if retained EU laws should be abandoned, or how they should be replaced, Ghani said the parliamentary officials were “comfortable” with a process set out in the bill. She added:
The crunch is, if you don’t like Brexit, if you didn’t like the way the Brexit vote took place, you are not going to like any elements of this bill.
Teaching unions report 'no progress' after further talks with education secretary
Talks between the teaching unions and the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, broke up after just over an hour this morning, with unions reporting zero progress.
Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) whose members have voted for strike action, said the meeting was “constructive” and the secretary of state had been keen to talk about issues affecting teachers such as workload and recruitment and retention.
There was however no discussion about an improved pay deal, either this year or next. “I’m happy to talk about all these other issues,” said Bousted, “but we’re not talking about things that will resolve the pay dispute.” The NEU is due to begin seven days of strike action on 1 February.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:
While it is good that these talks are continuing, and we are fully supportive of an ongoing dialogue, we have to report that no progress was made at this meeting and we are no nearer a solution.
There remained three unresolved issues, Barton said. He explained:
The first is the inadequacy of the pay award in this academic year, which at 5% for most teachers and leaders is well below inflation, currently running at 13.4% on the retail prices index measure and 10.5% on the consumer prices index measure. The fact that the pay award was not fully funded by the government has piled more financial pressure on to school leaders and governors.
The second is next year’s pay award which the education secretary has already sought to constrain in her remit letter to the pay review body, where she says it is particularly important to have regard to the government’s inflation target – which at 2% would represent yet another substantial below-inflation pay award.
The third is the unsustainable workload of leaders and teachers. This is a direct consequence of the insufficiency of government funding to education over the past 12 years which has left staff having to do more work with fewer resources.
Nobody wants to see industrial action, but it is not surprising that members of the NEU have voted in favour of strike action in these circumstances. Teacher shortages are a critical issue for virtually every school and college in the country and are causing educational damage on a daily basis. The government must do better for teachers, leaders and pupils.
George Eustice says he's standing down at next election
George Eustice has become the latest Conservative MP to announce their plans to step down from politics. The former environment minister has represented the Camborne & Redruth constituency in Cornwall since 2010.
In a statement Eustice said:
By the time of the next election, I will have been in politics for 25 years, including almost 15 years as a member of parliament.
I will also be 53 and I want the opportunity to do a final career outside politics, so have decided not to seek re-election. This has been a difficult decision for me.
I feel a deep bond to the area where my family have lived for over 400 years and it has been an honour to represent my home towns, but it is important that the Conservatives are able to select a new candidate in good time.
Eustice had been predicted to lose his seat to Labour, according to a number of pollsters. In 2019 he had a majority of 8,700.
More than a dozen Tory MPs have now announced they will be stepping down, from Sajid Javid to the 29-year-old Dehenna Davison, once dubbed a rising star.
GMB calls four more national ambulance strikes, saying 'demonisaton' of staff by ministers has 'made things worse'
The GMB union has announced four more days of ambulance strikes in February and March. The union says more than 10,000 of its ambulance staff members will strike on 6 and 20 February, and 6 and 20 March.
The strikes will affect the following regions in England: south-west; south-east; north-west; south-central; north-east; east Midlands; and Yorkshire. Wales will be affected too.
In addition, GMB ambulance staff in the West Midlands will strike on 23 January, and in the north-west on 24 January.
Rachel Harrison, the GMB’s national secretary, said:
GMB’s ambulance workers are angry. In their own words ‘they are done’.
Our message to the government is clear - talk pay now.
Ministers have made things worse by demonising the ambulance workers who provided life and limb cover on strike days - playing political games with their scaremongering.
The only way to solve this dispute is a proper pay offer.
But it seems the cold, dead hands of the Number 10 and 11 Downing Street are stopping this from happening.
In the face of government inaction, we are left with no choice but industrial action.
By “demonising ambulance workers”, Harrison is referring to ministers criticising health unions for not negotiating emergency cover arrangements for strike days at a national level. The unions say they negotiated those deals locally, trust by trust, because that is how staff are employed.
Following PMQs, the Labour party put out a news release saying in England “37,000 people with ‘emergency’ conditions, such as suspected strokes or heart attacks, had to wait more than 3 hours and 40 minutes for an ambulance in December”. It said:
The average response time for so-called ‘category 2 ambulance calls’ was a staggering hour and 32 minutes, while one in 10 patients in this category waited three hours and 41 minutes or longer. Category 2 is for “emergency calls” – for conditions such as heart attacks and strokes. The response time is more than 12 times the NHS target of 18 minutes.
Waiting times for “urgent” cases – for conditions such as late stages of labour, non-severe burns, and diabetic attacks – also reached record highs in December. The average response time for category 3 ambulance calls was 4 hours and 18 minutes, while 8,700 patients with such conditions waited more than 11 hours.
PMQs - snap verdict
Among the many reasons to be outraged about the condition of public services in Britain at the moment (yesterday we learned Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the Commons, seems to have joined the 57% of people who think “nothing works any more”), none is more powerful than the fact that you can no longer rely on an ambulance to turn up on time in an emergency. Keir Starmer focused on that today and it enabled him to produce one of his most powerful PMQs demolition jobs yet.
The statistics did most of the work, but what made this particularly effective was the way Starmer set out his case. First, a pithy question (which Sunak refused to answer):
It’s three minutes past 12. If somebody phones 999 now because they have chest pains and fear it might be a heart attack, when would the prime minister expect an ambulance to arrive?
This question – by anchoring itself in the present, at PMQs in 12.03pm – gave the exchanges an immediacy they never normally have, and Starmer followed that up with more questions that almost dramatised his scenario.
If our heart attack victim had called for an ambulance in Peterborough at 12.03pm it wouldn’t arrive until 2:10pm. These are our constituents waiting for ambulances I’m talking about …
If they were in Northampton it wouldn’t arrive until 2.20pm, if they were in Plymouth it wouldn’t arrive until 2.40pm.
In his third question, Starmer was elaborating on his narrative.
By 1pm our heart attack victim is in a bad way, sweaty, dizzy, chest tightening … by that time they should be getting treatment, but an hour after they’ve called 999 they’re still lying there, waiting, listening to the clock tick.
And then came the reveal; Starmer said this wasn’t hypothetical, “this is real life”. He was talking about Stephanie, 26, a cancer patient from Plymouth, who died waiting for an ambulance, even thought she only lived two miles from the hospital.
For a prime minister on the receiving end of a barrage like this, there is no winning strategy. The best option is full-on empathy, laced with humility and sometimes apology. Tony Blair or David Cameron could pull this sort of thing off. But Sunak – who has yet to shake off the impression that he’s a geek management consultant hired to clear up the appalling mess left by the outgoing administration – cannot match them in emotional intelligence, and instead he resorted to going on the attack over Labour’s failure to back the anti-strikes bill.
It might not be an entirely hopeless strategy. According to the polls, public support for the legislation is quite strong. But the public don’t blame the unions for the crisis in the NHS, and minimum service levels on strike days won’t help anyone like Stephanie who needs minimum services on non-strike days too. The public seem to get this, and today it was Starmer who was speaking up for what they think.
This is from my colleague Pippa Crerar on Rishi Sunak’s false claim that Nadhim Zahawi has addressed the issues raised by the report that he paid millions to settle a tax issue. (See 12.36pm.)
Imran Hussain (Lab) asks about a BBC report saying the Foreign Office was aware of Narendra Modi’s involvement in a “grave act of ethnic cleansing” before he became India’s prime minister.
Sunak says he does not agree “at all” with how Hussain described this.
Aaron Bell (Con) says he supports Sunak’s ambition to stop the boats. Will the PM ensure that people who make that journey are removed?
Sunak says the government “must go further” and introduce legislation saying if you enter the country illegally, you will be removed.
Alex Sobel (Lab) asks if Sunak was aware of the payments of millons to settle a tax bill by Nadhim Zahawi when he appointed him to cabinet as Tory chair.
Sunak says Zahawi has already addressed this in full, and he has nothing to add.
(That is untrue. Zahawi has put out a statement, but that statement does not address the matter in full.)
Laura Farris (Con) asks if the PM agrees that the public should be entitled to basic minimum services. And does the PM agree that Tony Blair was right to say the biggest defect with Labour when it was born was its link to organised labour?
Sunak says in other countries the emergency services are banned from going on strike.
Kenny MacAskill (Alba) says Sunak should ensure that there is an equalisation of tariffs for energy companies, so that the poor do not have to pay most.
Sunak says what MacAskill is proposing could increase bills for most people. The government is consulting on what to do going ahead, including the idea of a social tariff.
Graham Stringer (Lab) asks if the government is committed to ensuring HS2 reaches Manchester.
Sunak says the government is delivering on its plans to invest in the north.
Bob Blackman (Con) says the Holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper died this morning. Will the PM pay tribute to his life, and his message, “do not hate”.
Sunak pays tribute to Shipper. He says that message is “poignant and accurate”.
Dawn Butler (Lab) says she has had fantastic help from ambulance staff. She praises nurses too. Will the PM meet with the RCN?
Sunak says all unions, including the RCN, have had meetings with ministers. He is pleased about that.
Ian Lavery (Lab) says the government promised Britishvolt £100m and said this demonstrated levelling up. Now it has gone into administration, having got not a single penny from the government. Does the PM agree that nothing better illustrates the government’s lack of industrial strategy and its failure to deliver for the north-east.
Sunak says the promise of help was conditional on the company getting private investment. That was reasonable. But the private investment did not come. But, Sunak says, the government is investing in the north-east elsewhere.
Sarah Green (Lib Dem) asks if the PM will back her call for energy companies to be banned from forcing customers to switch to pre-payment meters.
Sunak focuses on the help provided to people to help them pay their energy bills.
Wayne David (Lab) says two of his constituents have died in attacks by dogs. The Dangerous Dogs Act is not working, he says. When will the government act?
Sunak says a working group is looking at this.
Craig Mackinlay (Con) again asks about the extension of the Ulez zone.
Sunak says the London mayor should “stop this unfair tax”.
Sunak urges Sadiq Khan to reconsider plans to extend Ulez in London
David Simmonds (Con) asks if Sunak agrees there should be an investigation into claims Sadiq Khan manipulated the Ulez consultation.
Sunak says Khan should respond to these serious concerns. And he says he is opposed to the extension of the Ulez zone.
UPDATE: Sunak said:
It is disappointing that the mayor, backed by the leader of the opposition, is choosing not to listen to the public, expanding the zone against the overwhelming views of residents and business.
I urge the mayor to properly reconsider and respond to these serious concerns.
Sunak says he has enormous respect and gratitude for public sector workers.
Stephen Flynn, the SNP leader at Westminser, says the SNP government kept its promise to pass the gender recognistion reform (GRR) bill.
Sunak says the decision to block it was based on the impact it would have on reserved matters. So the Scottish secretary acted “with regret”.
Flynn says this is the Tory party seeking to wage a “culture war” with some of the most marginalised people in society as the victims.
Today Tory MPs will be voting to rip up retained EU rules, against the wishes of Scotland, he says. Are we not on a slippery slope to ripping up devolution and imposing direct rule?
No, says Sunak. He urges the SNP to work with the UK government on a compromise gender recognition bill.
Philip Dunne (Con) asks Sunak if he welcomes Chris Skidmore’s net zero review.
Sunak says he welcomes the review, and is pleased it recognised the leading role the UK was playing.
Starmer says Sunak should apologise for leaving NHS in 'lethal chaos' under his watch
Starmer says Sunak’s response is to blame others, and deflect. He cites figures for how many people will be calling an ambulance during PMQs. Will Sunak apologise for the “lethal chaos” under his watch?
Sunak says he will deliver minimum safety levels as soon as he can pass the bill. He says Starmer will say anything for political purposes. He accuses Starmer of breaking promises, and he says Starmer is not just for the free movement of people, he is for the free movement of principles.
Starmer describes someone who died waiting for an ambulance. When will the government get back to an 18-minute wait?
Sunak says of course times should come down. But Starmer is a “living example” of political games, he says. He mentions Labour-run Wales again, and asks why Labour is denying those families the guarantee of emergency life-saving care?
Starmer describes what someone is like an hour into a heart attack. How will they feel knowing they have to wait hours more?
Sunak rattles off a list of things he is doing. But he says Starmer is not putting patients first because he is “in the pockets of his union paymaster”.
Starmer says in Peterborough an ambulance would not arrive until 2.10pm; in Northampton, 2.20pm; in Plymouth, 2.40pm. So will Sunak stop blaming others? The NHS is in crisis, isn’t it?
Sunak says ambulance times are even worse in Wales. This is not about politics. It is about the NHS dealing with an unprecedented situation, including an early flu outbreak. Why won’t Labour back the legislation?
Starmer says Sunak is trying to deflect the question. The ambulance should be there in 18 minutes. When will it arrive?
Sunak says they want to improve ambulance care. Starmer talks about life-saving care. So why is Labour opposed to the legislation?
Keir Starmer says it is 12.03pm. If someone phones an ambulance about a suspected heart attack, when would the PM expect an ambulance to arrive?
Sunak says people need care. But if Sunak cares about this, why won’t Labour support the government’s minimum service levels legislation?
Kate Kniveton (Con) asks about the importance of the A50/A500 corridor. Will the PM urge ministers to attend a meeting about this?
Sunak says the government recognises the importance of this scheme. Final decisions will be made next year.
Rishi Sunak starts by saying how shocked he is by the case of David Carrick. The police must address the failings in the system, he says.
After PMQs Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow business secretary, has an urgent question on the collapse of Britishvolt.
Rail minister admits government has lost more money from train strikes than it would have cost to settle them
Huw Merriman, the rail minister, told MPs this morning that the government has lost more money due to the impact of rail strikes than it would have cost to settle the disputes months ago, PA Media reports. PA says:
Merriman told MPs the row has “ended up costing more” but insisted the “overall impact” on all public sector pay deals must be considered.
Ben Bradshaw, a Labour member of the committee, put it to Merriman that “we’re talking of a cost to the government of over a billion (pounds) so far” from the impact of strikes, which have repeatedly decimated services for several months.
He went on to ask: “That would easily be enough money to have solved this dispute months ago, wouldn’t it?”
Merriman replied: “If you look at it in that particular lens, then absolutely, it’s actually ended up costing more than would have been the case if it was just settled in that part.
“But, again, we have to look at the overall impact on the public sector pay deals that are going across, and we also have to look on the ability for the reforms that don’t often get talked about, but they’re absolutely vital as part of the package.
“It’s the reforms that will actually pay for these pay deals and also make the railway more efficient in the long run as well.”
Merriman also told the committee that he was “really hopeful” there would soon be a settlement with the RMT rail union to end its strike, PA reports.
Rishi Sunak to face Keir Starmer at PMQs
Rishi Sunak will be taking PMQs in about 20 minutes’ time.
Here is the list of MPs down to ask a question.
Unite union says it's set to announce further ambulance strikes
The Unite union says its is going to announce further strike dates for its members who work as ambulance staff.
Its ambulance organising professional committee (OPC) is meeting later today to set new strike dates and the union says this “could see strike action throughout February and March as the government continues to refuse to negotiate on fair pay for this current financial year”.
Unite ambulance staff are going on strike in Wales tomorrow, and in four English regions and in Wales on Monday 23 January.
In its report about the head of the International Labour Organization saying he does not support the government’s anti-strikes bill, the BBC says that, at the same meeting in Davos, Marty Walsh, the US labour secretary, indicated that he was not in favour of legislation for minimum service levels either.
Paul Nowak, the TUC general secretary, has welcomed these comments. He said:
Ministers have rightly been called out for spinning mistruths. It’s time the government came clean about the draconian nature of this bill …
The UK already has some of the most restrictive trade union laws in Europe.
It’s little surprise that the ILO and the Biden administration have warned against these spiteful plans.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, has also made the same point. She said:
Grant Shapps has been ludicrously claiming that his sacking nurses bill has the international seal of approval, but the ILO and the US labour secretary clearly beg to differ.
The business secretary has been hiding behind warped and wilful misunderstandings of the International Labour Organization’s code in his desperate attempts to justify this shoddy, unworkable and vindictive piece of legislation.
Kemi Badenoch reportedly concerned trans conversion practices ban could 'inadvertently criminalise parents'
The normal practice within government is for ministers to argue about policy in private but, once a position has been agreed, to stick to the collective line.
But, on the proposed conversion practices ban, the process has been inverted. Yesterday Michelle Donelan, the culture secretary, used a written statement to announce that the government will ban conversion practices, including those affecting trans people.
And this morning there’s a big picture of Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister (and international trade secretary), alongside a splash story saying she has considerable reservations about the idea.
In his story Daniel Martin says:
The equalities minister is to write to all Tory MPs to insist that a ban on trans conversion therapy must not criminalise parents …
Although the move was announced by Ms Donelan, Mrs Badenoch is the minister responsible for the ban. She is understood to be concerned that it will be “hard” to ensure that there are no unintended consequences and that “there is much still to work on”.
The Telegraph understands that she intends to stress in her letter that great care needs to be taken when writing the bill, with input from doctors and parents as well as the LGBT+ community.
She is set to acknowledge that the draft version of the legislation will be imperfect, with issues around what constitutes conversion therapy, and how to protect faith leaders, counsellors and parents, not fully resolved.
A source close to Mrs Badenoch said: “The area of gender identity is much more complex than sexual orientation. We have said we will not inadvertently criminalise parents who are trying to support children.”
According to the Telegraph report, Badenoch is not opposed to the legislation per se, and she just wants to reassure Tory MPs that the bill won’t have unintended consequences. But it also says she wants “proper time for scrutiny”, which implies she would not be too upset if the plans have to be watered down.
The Telegraph does not say how it got its story and it is conceivable that Badenoch is mortified to find her thinking revealed on its front page. But Tory MPs will assume the briefing was authorised and, with Badenoch set to be a leading candidate in the next Tory leadership contest, being seen as sceptical about a policy like this probably won’t do her long-term ambitions any harm.
Labour to force Commons vote on plans to ‘sunset’ 4,000 EU laws
MPs will debate the remaining stages of the retained EU law (revocation and reform) bill this afternoon. This is the legislation that will abolish around 4,000 EU rules imported into UK law after Brexit, unless a decision is taken to retain or revise them, following a review.
The bill says this should happen by the end of this year. Almost all experts think this deadline is unrealistic, but the government is still refusing calls for the December 2023 end date to be removed from the bill. Partly that’s because the bill also allows ministers to extend the deadline, department by department, until the end of 2026 if they want to. When the bill goes through the Lords, peers may amend the bill to make 2026 the default deadline, not 2023.
As my colleagues Aletha Adu and Lisa O’Carroll report, Labour wants to amend the bill to protect workers’ rights.
The figure of 4,000 retained EU laws is an estimate. As Peter Foster from the Financial Times points out, even the government does not know what the exact total is.
But Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, said the inflation figures just showed how people were worse off under the Tories. Releasing figures showing that the average household is set to spend 9% of its disposable income on energy in 2023-24, compared with 3% in 2019-20, she said:
Each passing day brings more and more evidence that people are feeling worse off under the Tories.
That such a huge proportion of household bills will be spent on energy instead of the things families enjoy is a mark of Tory failure on energy security and economic competence.
This Tory government’s dearth of ambition for Britain is appalling. After 13 years of failure, they may only want our economy to survive, but Labour wants it to thrive.
As the party of sound money, Labour will make our economy stronger, and with our green prosperity plan and mission to make Britain the best place to start and grow a business, we will get it growing again.
“Are you better off than you were four years ago?” has been a potent electioneering weapon since the question was asked by Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reeves has now made it part of her repertoire.
The Labour party briefing also says the average household is now spending as much of its disposable income on energy as it is on food (9%), and more than it is spending on transport (8%) or recreation and culture (6%).
Hunt says inflation at 10.5% shows why 'difficult decisions needed' on public sector pay
UK inflation fell back slightly in December to 10.5% but remains at one of the highest levels in 40 years as the cost of living crisis continues, my colleague Phillip Inman reports.
In a statement issued in response to the figures, Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, linked continuing high inflation to the public sector pay disputes, and argued today’s figures justified the government’s refusal to award pay rises at or above inflation. He said:
High inflation is a nightmare for family budgets, destroys business investment and leads to strike action, so however tough, we need to stick to our plan to bring it down.
While any fall in inflation is welcome, we have a plan to go further and halve inflation this year, reduce debt, and grow the economy – but it is vital that we take the difficult decisions needed and see the plan through.
To help families in the meantime, we are providing an average of £3,500 of support for every household over this year and next.
The unions, of course, argue that double-digit inflation is precisely why they do need a larger pay rise.
Barclay says 'unaffordable' pay rises for health staff would take funding away from patients
Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has written an article for the Independent to coincide with the latest nurses’ strike today. In what sounds like a change of tone from when he met the health unions last week (and was more conciliatory, at least according to some accounts), he says that “unaffordable” pay rises for health workers would take resources away from patients. He says:
The nurses’ strike on Wednesday and the further walkouts for next month announced by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) on Monday will pile on further pressure at this challenging time. Around 30,000 procedures or outpatient appointments were postponed as a result of nurse strikes on 15 and 20 December, so I am disappointed that patients face disruption again …
With fewer than three months left of this financial year, it is time to look ahead, not back. I recognise the cost of living pressures on NHS staff and I know how hard they work. But if we provide unaffordable pay rises to NHS staff, we will take billions of pounds away from where we need it most. Unaffordable pay hikes will mean cutting patient care and stoking the inflation that would make us all poorer.
International Labour Organisation rejects suggestions it backs anti-strikes bill
Good morning. Nurses are on strike in England today, and 1 February (a fortnight today) is gearing up to be the biggest strike day yet, with train drivers, teachers and civil servants all striking, on the same day the TUC holds a “protect the right to strike” day of campaigning.
The TUC is mobilising opposition to the government’s anti-strikes bill, and this morning No 10 suffered a set back when the International Labour Organisation, a UN agency, made it clear it was not backing the bill.
So what, you might think. This government does not worry too much about the views of international quangos, particularly ones that are relatively unknown. But in recent days ministers have repeatedly defended the bill by implying it has some sort of ILO backing. Grant Shapps, the business secretary, told the Commons on Monday:
The International Labour Organisation itself states that minimum service levels can be a proportionate way of balancing the right to strike with the need to protect the wider public. That is what we are doing. Our own unions subscribe to and support the ILO, as do we.
Rishi Sunak made the same point at PMQs last week.
But the BBC interviewed Gilbert Houngbo, director general of the ILO, at Davos, and Houngbo sounded surprised to learn that his organisation was being cited as quasi-endorsing the government’s bill. He told the broadcaster:
I’m not aware of any bilateral discussion on this matter. We are very worried that workers may have to accept situations so they don’t get themselves out of a job. They may have to accept a situation that is below par.
Faisal Islam, the BBC’s economics editor, has a good write-up of the story here.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: Huw Merriman, the rail minister, gives evidence to the Commons transport committee.
9.45am: Andy Cooke, chief inspector of constabulary and fire and rescue services, gives evidence to the Commons home affairs committee on policing. At 10.45am Harvi Khatkar, chief superintendent and vice president at the Police Superintendents’ Association, and Steve Hartshorn, national chair at the Police Federation of England and Wales, give evidence.
10.15am: Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, holds a meeting with teaching union leaders.
12pm: Rishi Sunak faces Keir Starmer at PMQs.
After 12.45pm: MPs debate the final states of the retained EU law (revocation and reform) bill.
Afternoon: Steve Barclay, the health secretary, is on a health visit.
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