Boris Johnson wants this month’s widespread rail strikes to go ahead so he can “feed off the division” they will cause, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said.
Starmer said during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) that “I don’t want the strikes to go ahead”, after a series of Tory attacks pinning the blame for the industrial action on the Labour party.
More than 40,000 members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) will walk off the job on 21, 23 and 25 June in what are being described as the largest rail strikes in 30 years.
The crippling strike action will take place across 13 rail companies and National Rail, with around half of all UK lines set to be closed.
Johnson called on Starmer to “end his sphinx-like silence about the RMT’s strikes”.
Hitting back, Starmer said: “He’s in government. He could do something to stop the strikes, but he hasn’t lifted a finger. I don’t want the strikes to go ahead, but he does. He wants … the country to grind to a halt so he can feed off the division.”
He added: “Week after week [Johnson] stands there and spouts the same nonsense. The economy is booming, everything is going swimmingly, the people should be grateful.
“Whilst he’s telling Britain that we never had it so good, millions of working people and businesses know the reality. Britain’s growth is going to be slower than our competitors and our inflation higher.”
The RMT’s strikes are in protest to sector-wide pay freezes and Network Rail’s decision to cut 2,500 jobs.
This industrial action will disrupt events such as the Glastonbury Festival and Elton John’s concert in Hyde Park, while there are also concerns around disruption to GCSE school exams.
The Centre for Economics and Business Research said the rail strikes will deliver a £91m blow to the economy, with London disproportionately affected.
Network Rail today said there was “no real hope” of avoiding the strikes, while its chief executive Andrew Haines said the industrial action will cost the sector £150m and make pay increases more difficult.
The Liberal Democrats are calling for transport secretary Grant Shapps to resign if the strikes go ahead.
Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson Sarah Olney said: “The first duty of the transport secretary is to keep our country moving, yet an entire summer of rail strikes means he will have failed.
“Commuters and holiday goers will struggle to forgive the unions if these strikes go ahead, but Grant Shapps is just as much to blame for sitting on his hands.”
Shapps on Sunday said he was looking at new laws, which would allow firms to bring in agency workers during industrial action.
It comes after it was revealed last month that he was also considering legislation to ensure a minimum number of public transport must work during strikes.
“The country must not continue to be held to ransom,” Shapps told The Sunday Telegraph.
“These strikes are incredibly premature and we will use every possible lever to ensure that the public is protected in the future in particular.”
Mick Lynch, secretary-general of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), said Shapps “needs to stop smearing the RMT and unshackle the rail operating companies so they can come to a negotiated settlement that can end this dispute”.