Ministers will hold emergency Cobra meeting today to discuss Christmas strike chaos – with plan to deploy the army and civil servants to combat Border Force and hospital walkouts

  • The Government will host Cobra meeting today to discuss contingencies 
  • Hundreds of troops will be deployed to hospitals this week amid a nurses’ strike 
  • The military will begin emergency training at hospital trusts across the country 

Plans for military staff and civil servants to cover for striking workers in the coming weeks will be discussed by ministers at a Cobra emergency meeting today.

The Army is being sent in because the country is set to be hit by a wave of strikes over the coming weeks as Royal Mail staff, nurses, paramedics, rail employees and Border Force officials all stage walkouts over jobs, pay and conditions.

Military personnel and civil servants are being trained in case they are required to be drafted in at ports and airports, as border staff prepare to strike for eight days from December 23 to New Year’s Eve.

As southern England was crippled by snow overnight, hundreds of troops will be deployed to hospitals this week to help maintain vital services during a fortnight of reckless strikes in the run-up to Christmas.

Training: Soldiers may be called on to drive ambulances as the Christmas strikes kick off

Ministers will today convene the Government’s emergency Cobra committee to finalise contingency plans for dealing with a planned strike by nurses on Thursday

Military personnel will begin emergency training at hospital trusts across the country to allow them to drive ambulances during a planned walkout by paramedics next week.

Ministers will today convene the Government’s emergency Cobra committee to finalise contingency plans for dealing with a planned strike by nurses on Thursday, and fresh walkouts by rail staff and postal workers aimed at crippling the country as Christmas approaches.

Troops are already being trained to step in for Border Force airport guards, who are threatening days of disruption timed to wreck families’ plans to get away for the festive period.

Highways staff are also planning to walk out in a series of rolling strikes designed to cause disruption on the roads.

And the British Medical Association (BMA) yesterday warned that a strike by junior doctors in pursuit of a 26 per cent pay demand was ‘very likely’.

As Britain tonight faced its worst winter of industrial strife for decades:

  • Foreign Secretary James Cleverly indicated that ministers could ban emergency service workers, including paramedics and firefighters, from taking strike action;
  • NHS medical director Sir Stephen Powis warned the strikes were happening at the worst possible time, with the health service facing an early flu outbreak and a new Covid wave;
  • Labour health spokesman Wes Streeting admitted that no government could meet the RCN’s extraordinary pay demands;
  • Government sources said Rishi Sunak was convinced that yielding to union pay demands would ‘embed’ inflation for years, crippling living standards;
  • Ministers stepped up talks with rail chiefs amid fears the strikes could affect ‘critical’ freight deliveries in areas including energy;
  • Weather forecasters warned that commuters struggling to get to work during the rail strikes would face the worst weather of the winter, with freezing temperatures and snow predicted;
  • Labour MPs boasted they would join picket lines in support of unions which have given the party £15 million since Sir Keir Starmer became leader;
  • Hospitality bosses said rail strikes could cost the sector £1.5 billion as businesses cancel office parties because staff cannot get home.

Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden last night urged militant union leaders to call off the ‘damaging’ strikes.

He said: ‘The stance the unions have taken will cause disruption for millions of hardworking people over the coming weeks.’

Mr Dowden, who will chair Cobra meetings on strikes today and on Wednesday, said ministers were working to keep disruption ‘to a minimum’, but acknowledged that key services would suffer.

Protesters hold placards demanding fair pay for healthcare workers

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly indicated that ministers could ban emergency service workers, including paramedics and firefighters, from taking strike action

He said that funding inflation-level pay rises for the entire public sector would cost the taxpayer £28 billion, equal to almost £1,000 per household.

‘Of course we want to ensure that people are paid fairly, but what isn’t fair is for union bosses to put people’s livelihoods at risk in order to push their pay demands to the front of the queue,’ he said. ‘Nor would it be fair to ask families to pay an extra £1,000 a year to meet the union demands.’

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the strikes would create ‘significant risks’ to patients.

The Royal College of Nursing, which was seeking a 19 per cent pay rise, yesterday indicated that it knows its demands are unreasonable, with sources saying the union would settle for increases at or even below inflation.

Mr Barclay said it was inevitable that patients would suffer. He told The Sun: ‘In a winter when we’re worrying about Covid, flu and Strep A – on top of the Covid backlogs – I am deeply concerned about the risks of strike action to patients.’

Sir Stephen said there was ‘trouble brewing this winter’ for the NHS, but patients needing urgent care would still get seen.

Emma Runswick, deputy chairman of the BMA Council, said junior doctors had suffered a real-terms pay cut of 26 per cent since 2008. Challenged over the scale of the extraordinary pay demand, she told Sky News: ‘It’s only as steep as the money that has been cut from us.’

Mr Cleverly confirmed that the Prime Minister was working on measures to tighten strike laws, including potentially expanding the ban on police officers striking to other emergency services.

‘It is the first duty of the Government to make sure that people are protected,’ he told Times Radio.

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