WATCH: ‘Partygate’ distracting ministers from “real issues”, Ashworth says

Katie Neame

Jonathan Ashworth has warned that ‘partygate’ is “taking up all the energy and focus of ministers” and distracting from the “real issues” that the government should be focusing on.

In a Sky News interview this morning, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary strongly criticised Grant Shapps for focusing on defending Boris Johnson rather than the potential rail strike, which unions have said could be the “biggest rail strike in modern history”.

Ashworth said the Transport Secretary should be “moving heaven and earth to help the unions and management come to an agreed negotiated settlement”, adding: “But again, Grant Shapps is touring the studios, going ‘It’s not a party, there isn’t any problem’.

“Again, this just shows you how Boris Johnson’s rule-breaking and lying is taking up all the energy and focus of ministers when there are real issues out there, and Grant Shapps should be focusing on that, not be being sent out as the sort of safe pairs of hands, minister for the broadcast round, in order to defend Boris Johnson’s lying.”

Asked what he would say to unions this morning about the potential strike, Ashworth said: “I would say to management and unions, let’s negotiate a deal. Let’s give a fair pay rise to workers – but let’s get a deal.

“Because a strike is always a sign of failure, nobody wants to see strikes and actually by the way, workers only ever go on strike at the very very last resort. They don’t want to go on strike, that impacts them and their families, so they want to see a negotiated deal.”

The Labour frontbencher added: “It’s incumbent on ministers to bring both sides together and get a deal hammered out, and they’ve still time to do it. The minister could do that – that’s what he should be focused on today, not touring the studios to defend Boris Johnson’s lying.”

The transport union RMT is currently balloting its 40,000 members on strike action over pay, compulsory redundancies and safety concerns. The vote is scheduled to close today.

Contingency plans are reportedly being discussed to ensure passenger and freight trains continue running and supermarket shelves remain stocked.

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