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27 June 2022

Boris Johnson is struggling to shift the blame for a summer of strikes

Taking a firm stance on Ukraine at the G7 summit won’t save the Prime Minister from mounting difficulties at home.

By Freddie Hayward

On the second day of the G7 summit in Bavaria, President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to urge Western nations to supply Ukraine with more heavy weapons. Boris Johnson has already given his backing, calling for a surge in arms for the Ukrainians as he tries to counter any suggestions from other leaders that they should sue for peace. Johnson has previously accused France’s President Emmanuel Macron of trying to force Ukraine to accept a bad peace deal.

Fatigue with the war is setting in as the economic effects of sanctions and disrupted supply chains take hold. Leaders are seeking a deal to impose a price cap on Russian oil to limit Vladimir Putin’s funds for the war and dampen inflation – but an agreement is a long way off. Johnson desperately wants people to focus on his support for Ukraine in its war against Russian aggression, but flying around the world won’t save him from his woes at home.

Rebellious talk will continue to swirl around Westminster this week after the Conservatives’ pummelling in Thursday’s by-elections. Meanwhile, railway strikes continued over the weekend as criminal barristers go on strike today. The failure of the railway companies and the RMT to reach an agreement makes more strikes likely. Why can’t they reach an agreement? The RMT says the railway companies aren’t able to offer an acceptable agreement because the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has vetoed a written guarantee of no compulsory redundancies. In turn, Shapps has wholeheartedly rejected the idea that the government is, or should be, involved in these negotiations.

But a new legal opinion on the contracts between the government and the railway companies – commissioned by the TUC – blows apart Shapps’s position. If the railway companies don’t do as Shapps says, then the government won’t reimburse them for the cost of the strikes. “The practical effect of these provisions, therefore, is to give the [the secretary of state] extensive powers over such negotiations,” the legal opinion reads.

There’s an ongoing battle over the framing of the strikes: who is to blame? Who supports the strikers? Up until now, the government has washed its hand of the dispute and tried to frame them as “Labour’s strikes”. With more industrial action coming, the extent to which the government is implicated in the disruption will be crucial. This legal opinion will bolster Labour’s argument that the government is to blame and deflect from its own divisions over this summer’s industrial action. The more these strikes tarnish the government, the better for Labour.

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[See also: Putin has shown that he considers war a usable tool of state]