Rishi Sunak urges Keir Starmer to back laws aimed at protecting lives during health service strikes
- PM says backing ‘minimum service levels’ in strikes shouldn’t be controversial
- Union leaders vow to fight the new legislation in the courts and ‘in the streets’
- Sir Keir pledged that a Labour government would repeal the law before it was even published
Rishi Sunak accused Sir Keir Starmer of being in hock to unions yesterday – as he urged Labour to back laws protecting lives during strikes.
During angry clashes in the Commons, the Prime Minister said that backing ‘minimum service levels’ during strikes by ambulance workers and others ‘shouldn’t be controversial’.
‘This is a simple proposition,’ he said. ‘No one denies the unions’ freedom to strike but it is also important to balance that with people’s right to have access to life-saving healthcare.’
The PM also addressed speculation about his own medical history by admitting he had previously used private healthcare. Facing the Labour leader during Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Sunak said Sir Keir ‘simply doesn’t have a policy’ for dealing with the walk-outs, adding: ‘He talks about wanting to end the strikes.
Rishi Sunak accused Sir Keir Starmer of being in hock to unions yesterday – as he urged Labour to back laws protecting lives during strikes
‘The question for him is simple then: why does he not support our minimum safety legislation? We all know why… it’s because he’s on the side of his union paymasters, not patients.’ Official figures show that the unions have handed Labour more than £15million since Sir Keir became leader in 2020. Those behind the ambulance strikes are among the party’s biggest donors.
Union leaders have vowed to fight the new legislation in the courts and ‘in the streets’. Sir Keir pledged that a Labour government would repeal the law before it had even been published, telling MPs: ‘His [Mr Sunak’s] own assessments say it could increase the number of strikes. The simple truth is you can’t legislate your way out of 13 years of failure.’
It came as the public were warned to only call 999 yesterday ‘if it is a life or limb-threatening emergency’ after 25,000 ambulance workers went on strike. Union bosses insisted they had guaranteed emergency cover with local hospital trust leaders, but No 10 said they had refused to agree national cover, which the PM’s official spokesman said had left people facing a ‘postcode lottery of care’.
Under the new law, employers could sack striking staff who refuse to provide vital services, and sue unions if they fail to get strike cover.
Mr Sunak himself has repeatedly ducked questions about his use of private healthcare – but, in a surprise move yesterday, he told MPs that while he had used ‘independent’ healthcare in the past, he was now registered with the NHS.
His press secretary yesterday explained that he had set out his arrangements ‘in the interests of transparency’.
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