Nurses' 19pc pay demand 'obviously unaffordable', says Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak said the pay demands of the Royal College of Nursing are “obviously unaffordable” after the union announced strike action in December.

The Prime Minister said he has “enormous respect and gratitude to our nurses” and he does recognise that “things are difficult right now for everyone”.

But he said “what the unions are asking for I think is a 19 per cent pay rise and I think most people watching will recognise that that is obviously unaffordable”.

Mr Sunak said Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, is “sitting down, talking to” the RCN and “hopefully we can find a way through this”.

The union announced yesterday that it will stage its first-ever national walkouts on December 15 and 20.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said the strikes should be a "badge of shame" for the Government as he claimed nurses had been “driven to this by the Government”.

Follow the latest updates below. 

04:00 PM

That is all for today...

Thank you for joining me for today's politics live blog.

I will be back early on Monday morning.

03:12 PM

Boris Johnson and Liz Truss join Tory rebellion against Rishi Sunak on wind farms

Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have launched a challenge to Rishi Sunak’s authority by joining a Tory rebellion backing wind farms to tackle the energy crisis.

In their first major interventions since leaving Downing Street, the two former prime ministers have demanded an end to the ban on new onshore wind farms.

They both signed an amendment to the Government's Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, just days after Mr Sunak’s government was derailed by a separate Tory revolt on the same legislation.

The bill is designed to speed up housebuilding, which is crucial to Mr Sunak's growth agenda.

02:48 PM

Ben Wallace visits Glasgow shipyard to see Royal Navy's newest frigate

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, praised the "remarkable achievement" of shipbuilders as the new frigate HMS Glasgow was moved on to the Clyde for the first time today.

The Type 26 frigate is structurally complete and it has been slowly rolled from the shipyard’s hard standing in Govan, Glasgow, on to a barge for transport down river.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is pictured today during a visit to BAE Govan shipyard in Glasgow, to see the builds of the first three Type 26 Frigates, including HMS Glasgow - Jane Barlow/PA
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is pictured today during a visit to BAE Govan shipyard in Glasgow, to see the builds of the first three Type 26 Frigates, including HMS Glasgow - Jane Barlow/PA

The 149-metre warship will be taken to deeper water where the barge will be submerged, allowing HMS Glasgow to float for the first time.

It is expected to enter service with the Royal Navy around the middle of the decade as its systems and weapons are still to be installed.

02:30 PM

Tories 'killing off the dream of home ownership' - Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer has accused the Tories of "killing off the dream of home ownership" amid a row among Conservative MPs over housebuilding targets.

The Labour leader said during a visit to Birmingham this afternoon: "What we’ve seen, particularly in the last few days, is division and argument in the Conservative Party about planning, whether it’s onshore wind farms – which are vital for our energy security, bringing our prices down – or whether it’s homes, which are vital.

“That quarrelling, those arguments, are not just internal Conservative Party issues, they have an impact. It means we won’t get cheaper, secure energy as quickly as we should. They are killing off the dream of home ownership, because they can’t agree amongst themselves.

"Their entire party are a divided party and they are not really any longer able to show that they can govern the country."

02:09 PM

Starmer will not say if he supports nursing pay demands

Sir Keir Starmer was asked if he would support the Royal College of Nursing's 19 per cent pay rise demand. He refused to be drawn.

He told broadcasters: "It is about pay but it is also about staffing because, talk to anybody in the NHS – my wife works in the NHS – and they will tell you that they’re under so much strain when it comes to staffing.

"That’s why our plan to use money, by getting rid of the non-dom (tax) status and using that to train up 15,000 new doctors, is a very important part of the discussion.

"But so far as the pay is concerned, what we would do is get around the table and resolve the issue. You would never have a Labour health secretary saying ‘I’m not going to get around the table and continue discussions’.

"The proof is there. When Labour were in power we didn’t have strikes of nurses, and actually, we had fair pay for nurses."

02:07 PM

Sir Keir Starmer: 'The cavalry is coming'

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, told the NHS that the "cavalry is coming" in the form of a Labour government.

Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to Birmingham, Sir Keir said: "Frankly, if the Government is that tired of governing, then they should get out of the way and allow a different government to come in and deal with the underlying questions, like the lack of staffing – we want to train up 15,000 new staff to come in.

"The cavalry is coming under a Labour government. We wouldn’t sit on our hands, as this Government is doing."

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, is pictured travelling to Birmingham today - Stefan Rousseau/PA
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, is pictured travelling to Birmingham today - Stefan Rousseau/PA

01:56 PM

Nursing strikes a 'badge of shame' for Government - Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer said the planned nursing strikes in December were a "badge of shame" for the Government.

Speaking during a visit to Birmingham today, the Labour leader said: "The nurses have been driven to this by the Government. That’s a badge of shame for the Government.

"They’ve never taken strike action before. And for patients this is going to be devastating news. Nurses don’t want to go on strike."

01:55 PM

No10 insists Government is engaging with unions on nursing pay dispute

Downing Street insisted it would be wrong to say the Government is not engaging with unions over the nurses pay dispute.

Asked if it was right for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) to say that ministers had declined formal negotiations, a No 10 spokeswoman said: "No, I don’t… that’s not right. Ministers are engaging with unions, including the RCN, and we’ve been clear the door is open to discuss how we can work together and make the NHS a better place to work.

"However NHS nurses’ pay is an independent process. And the Government accepted the recommendations in full."

01:12 PM

Rishi Sunak: 19% pay rise for nurses 'obviously unaffordable'

Rishi Sunak said the Royal College of Nursing's demands for a 19 per cent pay rise for nurses are "obviously unaffordable".

Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to Darlington, the Prime Minister said: "I have enormous respect and gratitude to our nurses as everyone does for the incredible job they do. Look, I know things are difficult right now for everyone because of what is happening with inflation and that is why our plans that we outlined last week will get a grip of inflation and bring it down.

"That is really important. In the meantime what the unions are asking for I think is a 19 per cent pay rise and I think most people watching will recognise that that is obviously unaffordable and that is why I am pleased that the Health Secretary is sitting down talking to the union and hopefully we can find a way through this."

01:07 PM

Health Secretary insists 'door is open' for talks with nurses

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said his “door is open” to talks with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) after it announced its members will stage their first national strike in a dramatic escalation of the pay row raging across the NHS.

He told broadcasters: "My door is open. I’m very keen to continue to engage with the RCN leadership to look at the other issues that are impacting, but it is important we also respect the independent pay review body’s findings and I have agreed to implement those in full."

01:06 PM

Mark Harper to write to Mick Lynch 'in the coming days'

Mark Harper, Transport Secretary, is expected to write to RMT chief Mick Lynch "in the coming days", Downing Street said.

No10 said yesterday following a meeting between the pair that the letter would set out more detail on the “process and the role of the Government” in the rail dispute, which was to “encourage the two sides to come together”.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said today: "He will be writing shortly to the RMT following that meeting. I expect this will be in the coming days but I don’t have an update for you."

She said the Transport Secretary’s role is to act as a "facilitator" of discussions between employers and unions, not a "negotiator". He will set out more detail in line with this in his letter, she said.

12:44 PM

No10 unable to provide definition of 'low quality degree'

Downing Street said yesterday that it is "looking at the issue of students’ dependents and low quality degrees" as it considers how to reduce migration levels.

That inevitably prompted the question of what exactly is classed as a "low quality degree". Downing Street was unable to say this lunchtime.

The Prime Minister's Official Spokeswoman said: "We spoke broadly about some of the issues that we are looking at in light of the figures but I am not going to preempt or go further than that."

12:40 PM

'We support our excellent universities'

Downing Street has responded to Professor Brian Bell, the chairman of the Government's Migration Advisory Committee, who said UK universities would go bust if foreign students are only allowed to attend the very best institutions (see the post below at 08.49).

No10 has not denied the move is being considered (see the post below at 12.09) and when asked if the Government was willing to risk universities going bust in order to reduce migration levels, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman said: "We support our excellent universities. As I said we will be looking at this issue as we look at these figures now in detail and considering all options but I am not going to jump ahead of that."

12:32 PM

Rishi Sunak wishes England 'very best of luck' ahead of USA match

Rishi Sunak has wished the England football team "the very best of luck" ahead of their match against the USA this evening.

Asked if the PM will be watching the game, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokeswoman said: "He is attending events in his constituency but he will be keeping an eye and he will try and catch what he can.

"He does however wish the team the very best of luck."

12:27 PM

Dominic Raab bullying investigation expanded

A formal investigation into Dominic Raab’s behaviour has been expanded to consider a third formal complaint made against him, Downing Street has said.

The probe was launched after two formal complaints were submitted but No 10 said a third has now been received and Rishi Sunak has asked that it be included in the inquiry.

The latest complaint, received by the Cabinet Office on November 23, relates to Mr Raab’s time in the Department for Exiting the European Union.

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokeswoman said: “I can confirm that the Prime Minister has now asked the investigator to add a further formal complaint relating to conduct at the Department for Exiting the European Union and to establish the facts in line with the existing terms of reference.”

Senior lawyer Adam Tolley KC is leading the investigation into the complaints. Mr Raab has denied allegations of bullying and has said he has “behaved professionally at all times”.

12:09 PM

No10 does not deny PM considering curbs on foreign student numbers

Downing Street has not denied reports that Rishi Sunak is considering imposing a ban on foreign students coming to the UK unless they have a place at a top university.

The Prime Minister's Official Spokeswoman said the PM is "considering all options" to bring down migration after the publication of official statistics yesterday which showed net migration had hit a new record high of 504,000 in the year to June 2022.

11:10 AM

SNP warns against ban on international students

Imposing curbs on foreign students coming to the UK would "deal another hammer blow to Scotland's economic interests", the SNP has warned.

The UK Government is reportedly considering barring foreign students from coming to the UK unless they secure a place at a top university as part of efforts to reduce migration.

Stuart McDonald, the SNP's shadow home secretary, said: "The Tories trashed the economy with Brexit - and now they are proposing an absurd ban on international students that would deal another hammer blow to Scotland's economic interests.

"Independence is the only way to keep Scotland safe from these wreckless Tory policies, which are harming our economy and driving away the talent and investment needed to secure growth.

"If Westminster imposes this ludicrous and entirely counterproductive policy - it will be doing so against Scotland's wishes and in the face of strong opposition from the Scottish Government."

10:49 AM

Labour will cut taxes for ‘working people’, vows Sir Keir Starmer

Labour will cut taxes for "working people" when the economy stabilises, Sir Keir Starmer has pledged - as he said Labour will fight the next general election on economic competence.

The Labour leader also pledged not to try to seek a Swiss-style post-Brexit trading agreement with the European Union, as well as insisting now is not the time for a referendum on Scottish independence.

Sir Keir Stramer is pictured with politics students from St George's School, Harpenden, after appearing on the Chopper's Politics podcast - Paul Grover for The Telegraph
Sir Keir Stramer is pictured with politics students from St George's School, Harpenden, after appearing on the Chopper's Politics podcast - Paul Grover for The Telegraph

Sir Keir also said he did not want to see Labour MPs joining pickets to support public sector workers' strikes this winter, and urged his colleagues not to charge the costs of Christmas parties to their parliamentary expenses.

Sir Keir was answering questions from A-level politics students from St George's School, a comprehensive in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, for a special edition of Chopper's Politics podcast. You can listen to the podcast here.

10:18 AM

Sir Keir Starmer declares 'personal mission to tackle violence against women and girls'

Sir Keir Starmer today declared it is his "personal mission to tackle violence against women and girls" as he set out Labour's plan to do just that.

The Labour leader said: "It is my personal mission to tackle violence against women and girls. It is destroying lives and families. This government is failing, Labour would act to protect women. Here are three ways we'll do that."

He said Labour would impose tougher sentences for rape, stalking and domestic murder, roll out new specialist rape courts, and "establish a new Domestic Violence Register for serial domestic abusers and stalkers".

10:06 AM

UK to send 24 ambulances to Ukraine

The UK is sending an additional 35 emergency vehicles, including two dozen ambulances, to Ukraine, the Foreign Secretary announced today during a trip to Kyiv.

James Cleverly said the UK is sending 24 ambulances and six armoured vehicles as part of ongoing efforts to support civilians who have been caught up in the conflict.

He also announced the UK will step up its support on demining, increasing its support from £2 million this year.

He said in a statement issued by the Foreign Office: "As winter sets in, Russia is continuing to try and break Ukrainian resolve through its brutal attacks on civilians, hospitals and energy infrastructure. Russia will fail.

"The UK stands shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine. I have today announced a package of hands-on support for our Ukrainian friends in their fight, from ambulances to crucial support for survivors of the sexual violence carried out by the Russian military.

"I’ve seen here first-hand how the UK’s efforts are helping brave citizens to resist and rebuild. Our support will continue for as long as it takes for this remarkable country to recover."

09:57 AM

NHS Providers urges Government to 'act fast' to avert strikes

Trust leaders have pledged to do "everything in their power to minimise disruption for patients" during the nursing strike planned for December.

Interim chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said her organisation understands nurses’ strong feelings on the issue, and urged the Government to "act fast" to avert the walkouts.

She said: "Nobody wants to see strikes when the NHS is about to experience what may be its hardest ever winter, but we understand how strongly nurses feel and why it has come to this.

"We urge the Government to act fast and talk to nurses and union leaders to find a way to avert strikes.

"Trusts up and down the country have been planning for industrial action. Not all of them will be affected directly but those that are will do everything in their power to minimise disruption for patients."

09:29 AM

James Cleverly meets with Volodymyr Zelensky

09:26 AM

Labour chair refuses to say if 19 per cent pay rise demand is 'reasonable'

Anneliese Dodds, the chair of the Labour Party, was asked if she believed the 19 per cent pay rise being sought by the Royal College of Nursing is "reasonable" but she refused to be drawn.

She told Sky News: "Well, it is not reasonable for a politician to sit and pontificate about one per cent up, one per cent down. I am not going to do that."

Asked again if she thought a 19 per cent pay rise was a "reasonable" demand, Ms Dodds said: "I am not going to pontificate on specific percentages. That is not fair on nurses, it is not fair on patients either. What they need is a proper negotiation."

09:19 AM

Anneliese Dodds says nurses have been 'driven' to strike action

Anneliese Dodds, the chair of the Labour Party, refused to say if Labour backed the Royal College of Nursing taking strike action.

Asked "yes or no" if the party backed the nurses walking out, Ms Dodds told Sky News: "Well, look, no one supports strikes. Strikes indicate that negotiations haven't taken place, that they haven't been serious.

Anneliese Dodds, the chair of the Labour Party, is pictured in London on August 30 - Yui Mok/PA
Anneliese Dodds, the chair of the Labour Party, is pictured in London on August 30 - Yui Mok/PA

"This is going to be bad for nurses because they will be losing a day's pay, obviously, and it is going to have that impact on patients.

"So it is wrong that nurses have been driven to this stage and it is wrong that the Conservative Government has not been sitting down with those nurses to avert this."

09:11 AM

Labour chair: 'I don't blame nurses' for strike action

Anneliese Dodds, the chair of the Labour Party, said she does not "blame nurses" for taking strike action as she accused the Government of "gross negligence".

Speaking to Sky News, she said: "Well, I have to say that today is a very, very sad day because it really indicates that for the first time in its 100 year history the Royal College of Nursing is now engaging in industrial action.

"This is a sign of gross negligence on the part of the Conservative government. The last health secretary who had proper discussions with the RCN was Sajid Javid. We have had three health secretaries since then. We know that this was on the agenda for the nurses since the summer. We didn't see meetings taking place with the RCN over the summer.

"I don't blame nurses for saying a situation where they are understaffed, overworked and burnt out isn't acceptable. But this is going to be hugely disruptive for patients."

08:49 AM

Curbs on foreign students coming to the UK 'could send universities over the edge'

UK universities would go bust if foreign students were only allowed to attend the very best institutions, the chairman of the Government's Migration Advisory Committee has said.

It has been suggested that foreign students could be barred from Britain unless they secure a place at a top university as part of Government efforts to reduce migration.

Professor Brian Bell said there would be "a number of problems" with such a move, perhaps most significantly the financial impact.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that foreign students effectively subsidise the education system through paying higher fees: "Because of that cross-subsidisation that we get from international students it could send many universities over the edge.

"You can’t think about this as just an immigration policy. It is also an education policy. Are you willing, for example, to massively increase the fees that British students pay to offset the losses that would happen if you closed down the international student route?”

Asked if he meant universities would go bankrupt, he said: "Well, yeah. As I say, most universities for most courses lose money on teaching British students and offset that loss by charging more for international students. If you close down the international route I am not sure how the university continues to survive."

08:36 AM

'I think that is something that is certainly worth looking into'

Downing Street said yesterday that it is "looking at the issue of students’ dependents and low quality degrees" after a surge in foreign student numbers contributed to a new record high in net migration to the UK.

Professor Brian Bell, the chairman of the Government's Migration Advisory Committee, said the issue of students bringing family members with them when they come to study in the UK is "certainly worth looking into".

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "I think that is something that is certainly worth looking into. If you are an undergraduate student you are not allowed to bring a dependent but students doing masters and PHD programmes are allowed to bring dependents.

"That has gone up, it used to be very small, I think about 20,000 visas a year, and it is now up to about 70 or 80,000 and that has happened in the last couple of years.

"So I think that is an area where the Government may want to think about whether the offer is right in terms of the ability to bring in dependents, particularly for one year masters programmes."

08:22 AM

Steve Barclay: Nurses already in line for 'fair' pay rise

08:21 AM

Health Secretary: 'Strike action will have an impact on services'

Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, has told the Royal College of Nursing his "door remains open" for further talks as he warned strikes "will have an impact on services" even with contingency measures in place.

He tweeted this morning: "Our priority is keeping patients safe. The NHS has tried and tested plans in place to minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate but inevitably strike action will have an impact on services.

"My door remains open to [the Royal College of Nursing] if they want to discuss ways we can improve nurses’ working lives."

08:17 AM

Royal College of Nursing tells Health Secretary to 'stop the spin'

The Government has said the Royal College of Nursing's pay demands of a 19 per cent increase are not affordable because it would cost an extra £10billion a year.

Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the RCN, said she does not recognise the figures as she told Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, to "stop the spin".

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Ms Cullen said: "Well, first of all I don’t recognise those figures, nor does the Royal College of Nursing. Our economists have worked hard on our figures. If Mr Barclay wishes to meet with me and get round the table and stop the spin and start to speak he can avert these strokes.

"But my door is wide open, night and day, I will make myself available, as will my team on behalf of our nursing staff."

Ms Cullen claimed that Mr Barclay had "chosen strikes over speaking to me".

08:12 AM

Nursing leader claims pay demands have been 'ignored'

Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, suggested Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, had failed to engage with the organisation on its pay demands.

Asked when the last time was that she held talks with Mr Barclay, Ms Cullen told BBC Breakfast: "It has been a number of weeks. Mr Barclay made it very clear to me and again at a further meeting that involved other unions that he wished to discuss non-monetary issues with me.

"I was invited back to another meeting this week to talk about the pay review process that is in process and I don’t know whether that was to give me a training session in it, I have no idea.

"I don’t need to be taught about the pay review process. We have participated as a college in it from its inception, I know very well how to provide evidence to it as does the college. We have done that every year but unfortunately it has been ignored."

08:06 AM

Royal College of Nursing threatens further strike action

Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, has suggested there will be further strike action in the NHS if the Government does not give in over pay rise demands.

She told BBC Breakfast: "I have tried now for two weeks, multiple occasions, to get the Government at Westminster to listen to the voice of our members but that has fallen on deaf ears and as a result they have chosen - they have chosen - strike over listening to our nursing staff.

"So unfortunately we have been pushed to the position of having to issue two dates for strike, right in the middle of December when our nurses will stand on picket lines losing a day’s pay on both occasions when they cannot afford it.

"But they will continue to do that to speak up for their patients, they will continue to do it until this Government listens to them.

"And that is really unfortunate but every single government seems to be across the - well, with the exception of Scotland - seems to be turning their back on nursing staff at this point in time. You turn your back on nurses, you turn your back on patients."

08:03 AM

Good morning

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

There are growing fears in Westminster of a winter of discontent as scheduled strike action in different public sector areas continues to pile up.

The latest announcement came from the Royal College of Nursing, with two days of walkouts now set for December.

The Government is under massive pressure to agree deals with union leaders to avoid disruption but there is also huge tension over the pay rises being demanded, with ministers adamant such increases are simply not affordable.

There is plenty going on this morning and I will do my best to guide you through the key developments.