Rishi Sunak chairs cabinet ahead of release of plan to fast-track removal of some asylum seekers – UK politics live

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Closed platforms at Waterloo Station in London this morning, because of the rail strike. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Transport secretary Mark Harper claims public opinion turning against RMT over rail strikes

This morning Mark Harper, the transport secretary, and Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, have both been giving interviews. Their claims have been well rehearsed – this is a dispute that has been running for months, after all – but as it reaches the point where passengers are going to be inconvenienced more than ever before, the competition for public support becomes more intense.

In an interview with Times Radio, Harper claimed public opinion was turning against the RMT. Referring to the outcome of a ballot of its Network Rail members announced yesterday, Harper claimed:

[The RMT] have had a fair and reasonable offer, which has been accepted by Unite staff at Network Rail, the TSSA are recommending acceptance of that offer, it’s just the RMT that are recommending that it be refused. But even with them recommending refusal, almost 40% of their staff actually voted in favour of it. So I think the tide is turning on public opinion.

But the evidence for Harper’s claim is limited. Recently YouGov published polling suggesting a plurarity of voters are opposed to the strikes.

Polling on rail strike
Polling on rail strike Photograph: YouGov

In the summer a separate Ipsos poll found the public split 50/50 (or 35% to 35%, to be precise) on whether they supported the rail strikes, and the difference between the two sets of results might back Harper’s case. But, even on the latest YouGov numbers, support for the RMT is high by historic standards, and support for rail workers being allowed to strike has actually gone up over the last three years, a YouGov tracker says.

In his interviews this morning Lynch said his union still did have public support.

Sunak chairs cabinet ahead of expected release of plan to fast-track removal of some asylum seekers

Good morning. The first of four 48-hour national RMT rail strikes, set to paralyse the network of the holiday period, has started. Given the impact that these strikes will have on non-strike days, and other closures planned over Christmas, one estimate says rail services won’t return to normal for a month.

Here is my colleague Julia Kollewe’s story about the situation travellers this morning.

And here is Jasper Jolly’s business blog, which is covering this in more detail.

Cabinet is meeting this morning. Politics is dominated by the strikes, but the Times is reporting that Rishi Sunak could announce his latest plan to reduce the number of small boat crossings as early as today. In their story Matt Dathan and Stephen Swinford say:

The prime minister is expected to announce the first tranche of his strategy to deal with illegal immigration on Tuesday amid warnings from Tory backbenchers that the party will face defeat at the next election if it fails to resolve the issue. The announcement is expected to include a fast-track process for assessing claims from a list of “safe” countries such as Albania.

Sunak is set to announce that all asylum claims from countries on a Home Office “white list” will be automatically rejected unless the individual can provide evidence that their claim has merit, proposals that were first revealed by The Times earlier this month.

Government sources said there were plans to merge the assessment process for asylum and modern slavery claims, as part of efforts to stop failed asylum seekers “gaming” the system by claiming to be victims of modern slavery at the last minute to avoid deportation.

Sunak desperately needs something that will win his government some credit with the voters, given all the other problems he faces, although whether this will do the trick remains to be seen. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has already her announced her own plans to fast-track asylum applications from countries like Albania, and that will make it harder for Sunak to argue the Tories are doing something distinctive.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: Rishi Sunak chairs cabinet.

10am: Ofsted publishes its annual report.

11.30am: James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

After 12.30pm: MPs debate the remaining stages of the levelling up bill.

12.45pm: Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, gives a speech to the Policy Exchange thinktank on defending democracy. The annual report from parliament’s intelligence and security committee is also due to be published at some point today.

2pm: Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, does a phone-in on LBC.

2.30pm: Grant Shapps, the business secretary, gives evidence to the Commons business committee.

Afternoon: Peers vote on a Lib Dem motion that would block regulations introducing voter ID for elections.

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