Mick Lynch says meeting with transport secretary ‘positive’, but RMT no closer to calling off rail strikes – UK politics live

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Mick Lynch outside the Department for Transport.

Mick Lynch outside the Department for Transport. Photograph: Tayfun Salcı/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Mick Lynch outside the Department for Transport. Photograph: Tayfun Salcı/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Mick Lynch says meeting with transport secretary 'positive', but RMT no closer to calling off rail strikes

Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, has been speaking to the media after his meeting with Mark Harper, the transport secretary.

He said that it was a “positive meeting” and that Harper said he would set out in writing what steps might be taken towards a resolution of the dispute behind the rail strikes.

He said one issue was that it has not been clear what scope the Rail Delivery Group had to negotiate. Harper said he would clarify that, he said.

Lynch said he hoped that would lead to a new negotiating mandate.

But asked if he was closer to calling off the dispute, Lynch said that was not the case. He said they would not be closer to an end of the dispute until a reasonable offer was on the table.

This is from the Mirror’s Ashley Cowburn.

Mick Lynch tells the press we’re “now starting to get a dialogue” with Transport Sec.

Says we’re “getting rid of the bellicose rhetoric” of his predecessor Grant Shapps. pic.twitter.com/GhP8C61ON2

— Ashley Cowburn (@ashcowburn) November 24, 2022

Key events

Transport secretary Mark Harper says meeting with RMT's Mick Lynch 'productive'

Mark Harper, the transport secretary, has said his meeting with Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, was productive. In a clip for broadcasters, he adopted a consensual tone, stressing the “shared” objectives of both sides, but did not offer commitments on substance. He said:

[Lynch] and I both agreed that this was a productive meeting. It was the first one that that we’ve had. I think it struck the right tone.

I think there was a shared agreement in the meeting. We both want to have a thriving railway that is sustainable for the future, that serves passengers, that serves the country and also provides good, well-paid jobs for the people that he represents. I think there’s a lot of shared agreement there.

But we need to have the two sides, the trade unions and the employers, sit down, agree on the detail, so that we can bring this dispute to an end. I think that’s where we both have a shared interest.

Mark Harper speaking to the BBC
Mark Harper speaking to the BBC. Photograph: BBC News

77% asylum application success rate shows Braverman peddling 'lies' about economic migrants, says SNP

The SNP says today’s asylum figures (see 12.49pm) show that Suella Braverman, the home secretary, has been peddling “dangerous lies” about asylum seekers. In a statement, Stuart McDonald, the party’s home affairs spokesperson, said:

These latest figures must serve as a wake-up call for the Home Office to ditch its hostile approach and the peddling of dangerous lies about those fleeing conflict and hardship.

The home secretary’s claims over ‘economic migrants’ have been utterly exposed with the official ONS stats revealing that just over three-quarters (77%) of the initial decisions on asylum applications in the year ending September 2022 were ‘grants of refugee status, humanitarian protection or alternative forms of leave’. Appeals against refusals are also historically high, at 52%.

However, the backlog of cases also jumped yet again to nearly 120,000 cases, with growing numbers having to wait months and years waiting for a decision, not allowed to work, and on poverty support levels.

Helena Horton

Today the Guardian reported on statistics from Surfers Against Sewage, which found water companies are routinely spilling human waste into rivers and beaches when it isn’t even raining.

They are only supposed to do so during “exceptional weather conditions”.

The Liberal Democrat MP Richard Foord has raised the report in parliament, highlighting how his son became sick after swimming in a river in Devon.

.@sascampaigns new report reveals the scale of illegal sewage dumps from negligent water companies.

With my son becoming ill after swimming in a local river, this is personal for me.

Today I raised the report in Parliament and called for a debate on how we stop this behaviour. pic.twitter.com/xVoSn680pz

— Richard Foord MP (@RichardFoordLD) November 24, 2022

Lynch says he hopes Harper will end 'surreal' situation where none of rail bodies authorised to negotiate end to strike

Here is a full summary of what Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, said when he spoke to journalists after his meeting with Mark Harper, the transport secretary.

Lynch said the meeting with Mark Harper was “positive”. He said:

I would say it was a positive meeting in the sense that we’ve got rid of the bellicose nonsense that we used to have from Grant Shapps and his cohort, in his era, and we are now starting to get a dialogue.

But he said the RMT was no closer to calling off the strikes scheduled for December and January. He said that would not happen until a reasonable offer was on the table. He said:

If we call off the strikes, we’ll never get a settlement. We did that two weeks ago. We’ve changed our dates in response to public opinion. When the Queen passed, when we had the poppy day, we’ve done other things. We have not had a strike for seven weeks, and nothing has happened. So anyone that’s been involved in industrial relations knows that there has got to leverage and pressure at the table from both sides. That will create the compromises and the resolutions that we’re all looking for.

If I take these [strike] actions off without any outcome, my members won’t forgive me for doing that. And we know that the pressure will be off all the parties.

He said Harper had committed to giving the RMT a letter setting out a process towards a resolution of the rail dispute.

He said he wanted Harper to give the rail industry a fresh mandate to negotiate an end to the dispute. He said that although the RMT has been in talks with the Rail Delivery Group, which represents rail companies, it did not seem to have proper authority to negotiate. The individual companies were also saying they could not negotiate either, he said. He said he asked Harper to clarify who had authority to negotiate, and to set up a liaison group involving ministers. He went on:

[Harper] has got a legal responsibility for industrial relations, and the responsibility to set their mandate, ie what they can say, what they can offer, and what they can negotiate on at that table. So I’m hoping he’s going to do that, hopefully today … He needs to clarify in writing where he stands and where the industry stands when they are transacting with us in those discussions.

He said he did not expect Harper to be at the negotiating table with him. But he did expect ministers to be “engaged in the process”.

He claimed the current negotiating situation was “surreal” because the employers did not have a mandate to negotiate a resolution. He said the Rail Delivery Group had told the RMT it was not able to engage in collective bargaining. And the individual rail companies said they could not engage in collective bargaining either, he said. He went on:

So this is a completely strange and surreal situation. I’m responsible for my union, and I stand in front of you and take whatever you want to throw at me. Nobody from the employers is prepared to stand in front of me and take the responsibility for settling this dispute. That’s what we need. We need somebody of authority, which has to start with the secretary of state and the rail minister, who I want to work with positively, to take responsibility for settling this dispute.

He said Harper had denied that the Department for Transport was the “blockage” preventing a solution to the dispute. Lynch said someone seemed to be blocking a solution, but he said it was not clearly exactly who it was.

He said he had urged Harper to speed up negotiations. The talks have been running for six months already, he said. “And we have had not one document put across the table. That has to change,” he said.

He said jobs, and terms and conditions, were more important to his members than pay levels. He said:

My members are telling me you’ve got to secure me my job, and you’ve got to get me a set of terms and conditions that are acceptable, and then we can talk about what we’re getting paid. If you haven’t got a job, you don’t get a pay rise anyway.

He said the train operators were “only interested in profit”. He said:

They made profit throughout Covid and they made profit throughout these disputes, where they have been indemnified for every day of strike action. This lot in the Department of Transport have been paying all their costs while all the businesses in London and across this country have been suffering losses, while the train operators have had all of their revenue protected by this government.

He said plans to cut 50% of maintenance inspections on the railway were not acceptable.

He said he would urge passengers disrupted by the rail strikes to contact Tory MPs and urge them to “get these ministers to get us a settlement”.

Mick Lynch speaking to journalists after his meeting with Mark Harper at the Department for Transport.
Mick Lynch speaking to journalists after his meeting with Mark Harper at the Department for Transport. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Mick Lynch says meeting with transport secretary 'positive', but RMT no closer to calling off rail strikes

Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, has been speaking to the media after his meeting with Mark Harper, the transport secretary.

He said that it was a “positive meeting” and that Harper said he would set out in writing what steps might be taken towards a resolution of the dispute behind the rail strikes.

He said one issue was that it has not been clear what scope the Rail Delivery Group had to negotiate. Harper said he would clarify that, he said.

Lynch said he hoped that would lead to a new negotiating mandate.

But asked if he was closer to calling off the dispute, Lynch said that was not the case. He said they would not be closer to an end of the dispute until a reasonable offer was on the table.

This is from the Mirror’s Ashley Cowburn.

Mick Lynch tells the press we’re “now starting to get a dialogue” with Transport Sec.

Says we’re “getting rid of the bellicose rhetoric” of his predecessor Grant Shapps. pic.twitter.com/GhP8C61ON2

— Ashley Cowburn (@ashcowburn) November 24, 2022

Colin Yeo, an immigration lawyer, has posted an interesting thread on Twitter about the latest immigration and asylum statistics out today. It starts here.

He points out that there has been a huge rise in the number of asylum seekers waiting to have their applications considered.

4. There were only 16,400 initial decisions over the last year, meaning that the backlog substantially increased. There are now 117,400 applications outstanding relating to 143,377 people. pic.twitter.com/gJQBmDKDZr

— Colin Yeo (@ColinYeo1) November 24, 2022

And he says successful applications, and successful appeals, are at historically high levels.

5. Of the (few) decisions that were made, 77% were grants of asylum. That is an historic high. It is driven by the fact that a lot of asylum seekers are coming from very dangerous countries. This chart shows the top 10 nationalities claiming asylum pic.twitter.com/7ZS5Y3cWiC

— Colin Yeo (@ColinYeo1) November 24, 2022

7. 52% of asylum appeals were also allowed, which is also historically high. There were only 3,543 appeals lodged in the last year, largely because there were so few refusals. Appeals really aren't gumming up the system: it's very much entirely the Home Office that is doing that.

— Colin Yeo (@ColinYeo1) November 24, 2022

At the Downing Street lobby briefing this morning the PM’s spokesperson mostly refused to comment the BBC Newsnight report that former private secretaries who have worked with Dominic Raab are preparing to submit complaints about his conduct. The PM’s spokesperson said:

The investigation is ongoing, I don’t intend to provide a running commentary on what is an independent and - rightly - confidential process.

But the spokesperson confirmed that Rishi Sunak still had confidence in Raab. And he did address one aspect of the Newsnight report, saying that in some circumstances ministers can use a personal email account for government business. The spokesperson said:

Ministers are able to use various forms of communication. As long as they take heed of that guidance, there is not a binary restriction on use of personal email addresses.

90% of PPE procurement bids processed through VIP lanes unsuccessful, minister tells MPs

Neil O’Brien, the health minister, told MPs that 90% of the bids to provide PPE for the government during the pandemic that were processed through the so-called VIP lane (because they were referrals via ministers) were unsuccessful. Referring to the process during the urgent question earlier, he said:

Over the course of the programme, due diligence was done on over 19,000 companies, and over 2,600 companies made it through that initial due diligence.

With huge demand for PPE, all across the world, and with many countries introducing export bans, our risk appetite had to change.

We had to throw everything behind our effort to protect those who protect us and those who needed it most. We had to balance the risk.

Referring to the VIP lane, he said:

Around 9,000 people came forward, and all ministers will have experienced endless people directly ringing them up to try and help with the huge need that there was at the time.

It did not give you any kind of successful guarantee of a contract. Indeed, 90% of the bids that went through it were not successful.

Mick Lynch arrives for talks with transport secretary saying he is hoping for 'positive meeting'

In the Commons, during transport questions this morning, Mark Harper, the transport secretary, told MPs that he wanted rail union leaders to engage in negotiations to end the strikes and accept that reform was vital. He said:

I want a sustainable, thriving rail network, but with 20% of passengers not having returned following the Covid pandemic, reform is vital. I would urge all trade union leaders to get back around the table with employers to hammer out the detail of that reform.

The government will work to facilitate this and to that end I will be meeting with trade union leaders in the coming days.

Within the last few minutes Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, has arrived at the Department for Transport for talks with Harper. Lynch said:

We’re expecting a positive meeting. We’re [hoping for a] constructive approach. And we’ll see what he says.

This is from Sky’s Ivor Bennett.

RMT boss Mick Lynch has arrived at the Department for Transport ahead of crunch meeting with the Transport Sec.

"We're expecting a positive meeting. We're offering a constructive approach and we'll see what he says."

More on @SkyNews shortly pic.twitter.com/jSAe22hzMJ

— Ivor Bennett (@IvorBennett) November 24, 2022

The ONS says that, when it says net migration is at a record level (see 9.55am and 10.01am), it means this is the highest figure since it started recording statistics on migration in 1964.

It says net migration was previously highest in the year to March 2015 (331,000) and immigration highest just before the pandemic, in the year to March 2020 (715,000) – although it says these numbers will be subject to revision as more data about the population becomes available.

Fresh revelations about Tory peer Michelle Mone and VIP lane PPE contract show 'total failure of due diligence', says Labour

Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, said the revelations in the Guardian today about the Tory peer Michelle Mone and her children gaining £29m from a firm that gained a PPE contract through the government’s VIP lane showed “a total failure of due diligence”. Asking her urgent question on the topic, she told MPs:

Last night documents seen by the Guardian revealed yet another case of taxpayers’ money being wasted – a total failure of due diligence and the conflict of interest at the heart of government procurement.

In May 2020 PPE Medpro was … given £203m in government contracts after referral from a Tory peer. It now appears that tens of millions of pounds of that money ended up in offshore accounts connected to the individuals involved, profits made possible through the company’s personal connections for ministers and the Tories’ VIP lane that was declared illegal by the high court.

Yet ministers are still refusing to publish correspondence relating to the awarding of the MedPro contract because they say the department is engaged in a mediation process.

Rayner asked the minister, Neil O’Brien, if the government had recovered any funds from PPE Medro. But she argued that a wider scandal was involved.

This government has written off £10bn alone in PPE that was deemed unfit for use , unuseable, overpriced or undelivered. Ministers appears to have learned no lessons and have no shame. As family’s struggle to make ends meet, taxpayers will spend £700,000 pounds a day on the storage of inadequate PPE.

Rayner was reprimanded by Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the speaker, who said he wanted MPs to stick to the rules that he mentioned earlier about not referring to the Mone case. (See 10.44am.) Hoyle stressed that he did not make these rules.

In response, O’Brien, a health minister, said that, in the case of “underperforming” PPE contracts, the government did try to recover its money, or reach an agreement with the company concerned. In the case of PPE Medro, “we haven’t got to the point where a satisfactory agreement has been reached at this stage,” he said.

On the topic of PPE procurement generally, he said the “VIP lane” was just a mechanism for handling referrals. He said being in the VIP lane did not guarantee that a contract would be awarded.

And he stressed that the government had to act quickly. Governments buying PPE were being “gazumped”, he said because “goods were taken out of the warehouse if people could turn up with the cash quicker than you could”.

Angela Rayner asks urgent question on government 'VIP lane' for PPE contracts – video

Health minister Neil O'Brien responds to Commons urgent question about PPE procurement

In the Commons Neil O’Brien, the health minister, is responding to an urgent question tabled by Labour about the procurement of PPE during the pandemic.

The question was tabled by Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, tabled the question. It was inspired by the Guardian story saying documents indicate that the Conservative peer Michelle Mone and her children secretly received £29m originating from the profits of a PPE business that was awarded large government contracts after she recommended it to ministers.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons speaker, started by saying that MPs are not allowed a criticise a member of the House of Lords unless they are debating a motion specifically referring to that peer. And he says MPs should not say anything that might prejudice legal action.

In his opening statement, O’Brien did not mention Mone, but just stressed how the government had to procure PPE equipment very quickly. He said there may be lessons to be learned from the prices that were paid, but he said “we must not lose sight of the huge national efforts that took place to protect the most vulnerable”.

Madeleine Sumption, head of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, wrote a blog earlier this week explaining why non-EU migration was so high. She says although the post-Brexit immigration rules introduced by the government “is likely to have had some impact on non-EU visa grants” (which have gone up), mostly other factors are involved. She says:

Three factors have come together to make the number of visas granted to non-EU citizens unusually high. The largest single factor is the introduction of visa routes for Ukrainian refugees and Hong Kong British s (Overseas) status holders. Together these two routes contributed 45% of the 467,000 increase in visa grants between 2019 and the year ending June 2022 (excluding visitors and short-term study).

The rest of the increase results from students (39% of the increase) and work visas (23% of the increase). Skilled workers, particularly in the health and care sectors, were the main factor behind the increase in work visa grants.

New data shows net migration has hit unusually high levels (504k) - there is a reason for this which we explained earlier this week: https://t.co/JsAWcqHj7D

— MigrationObservatory (@MigObs) November 24, 2022

This is from Jay Lindop, director of the Centre for Migration at the Office for Statistics, commenting on today’s figures.

A series of world events have impacted international migration patterns in the 12 months to June 2022. Taken together these were unprecedented. These include the end of lockdown restrictions in the UK, the first full period following transition from the EU, the war in Ukraine, the resettlement of Afghans and the new visa route for Hong Kong British nationals (Overseas), which have all contributed to the record levels of long-term immigration we have seen.

Migration from non-EU countries, specifically students, is driving this rise. With the lifting of travel restrictions in 2021, more students arrived in the UK after studying remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. However, there has also been a large increase in the number of people migrating for a range of other reasons. This includes people arriving for humanitarian protections, such as those coming from Ukraine, as well as for family reasons.

These many factors independent of each other contributing to migration at this time mean it is too early to say whether this picture will be sustained.

ONS says net migration into UK rose sharply to record 504,000 in past year, partly due to 'unique' factors

The Office for Statistics has released figures showing that net migration – the number of people arriving in the UK to stay long term, minus the number leaving – reached an estimated 504,000 in the year ending in June this year. This is the highest figure on record.

And the number of long-term immigrants arriving in that period was 1.1 million, the ONS says.

These figures represent a big increase on previous years, but the ONS says that is partly due to some “unique” factors. It says:

The period leading up to June 2022 was unique, with simultaneous factors coinciding to affect long-term immigration; this included the continued recovery in travel following the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, a number of migration events including a new immigration system following transition from the EU, and the ongoing support for Ukrainian nationals and others requiring protection.

These have all contributed towards relatively high levels of total long-term immigration at an estimated 1.1 million in the year to June 2022.

The estimated 435,000 increase in total immigration compared with a year earlier was driven by non-EU nationals (up 379,000 to 704,000 in the YE June 2022); increasing arrivals of international students and people travelling from Ukraine under the visa support scheme were all contributing factors.

Overall, net migration continued to add to the population in the YE June 2022, with an estimated 504,000 more people arriving long-term to the UK than departing; net migration of non-EU nationals was estimated at 509,000 in the YE June 2022, compared with negative 51,000 and 45,000 for EU and British nationals respectively.

Here is the graph showing the immigration figures.

Immigration figures
Immigration figures. Photograph: ONS

And here is the graph showing the net migration figures.

Net migration figures
Net migration figures Photograph: ONS

UPDATE: The ONS says these are record figures since 1964, when the ONS started collecting figures. See 11.21am.

Dominic Raab facing ‘series’ of bullying claims from civil servants

Dominic Raab is reportedly facing multiple fresh complaints from senior civil servants in multiple government departments over allegations of bullying behaviour. My colleague Geneva Abdul has the story here.

Mick Lynch to discuss rail strikes with transport secretary as UK hit by wave of industrial action

Good morning. Years ago, at least until the late 1980s, one of the best jobs in journalism was to be the industrial editor. Strikes were always in the news, they covered loads of stories (and often took precedence over the political correspondents covering the Labour party, which was then largely run by the unions). But after the Thatcher government’s union reforms, plus mass unemployment, union membership fell, the number of days lost to strikes shrunk, and now the industrial correspondents have now almost all gone. Which is a shame, because today we really need some.

Here is a quick round-up from on-strike Britain.

Royal Mail workers have begun a two-day strike. My colleague Joe Middleton writes about it here.

And here are some picture from the CWU union Twitter feed.

Up to 2.5 million students could face disruption because university staff have started what is being billed as the biggest strike in the history of UK higher education. My colleague Sally Weale writes about it here.

Teachers in Scotland are holding the first national schools strike since the 1980s.

And Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, is preparing for a meeting with Mark Harper, the transport secretary, to discuss what might be done to avert more strikes planned for December and January. Lynch gave an interview to ITV’s Peston last night and he called for a new, ‘transactional’ approach from the government. He said:

We need the government to get its act together and be a facilitator. We’ve had so much disruption, where Grant Shapps was frankly just going around being bellicose, accusing me of being some kind of medieval baron, evil Marxist mastermind and all the rest of it. It’s just not appropriate.

If Mark Harper wants to come in there and calm stuff down, and say let’s get on with the business, let’s do transactional business across the table – they get a bit, we get a bit, our members benefit, the public benefits – happy days, let’s get on with the deal, we don’t have to have strikes.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: Mark Harper, the transport secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

11.45am: Harper is due to hold a meeting with Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions and, if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at [email protected]

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