Politics latest: Fuel duty hike not ruled out by PM as he faces first … – Sky News

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The prime minister appears before the Liaison Committee of senior MPs; nurses are holding a second day of industrial action as workers from a range of sectors take part in a wave of strikes over low pay and conditions across the UK.
Five more asylum seekers have been diagnosed with diphtheria, the UK Health Security Agency has revealed.
This means a total of 67 people have been found to have the condition this year.
The UKHSA says the new cases were recorded between 12 and 18 December.
In the seven-day period before, five cases were added.
Fifty of the cases were recorded in the South East, six were in London, and there were fewer than five in each of the following areas: East of England, West Midlands, South West, North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber, the latest report said.
Last month, immigration minister Robert Jenrick said that asylum seekers with diphtheria symptoms would be put into isolation.
The Home Office has told a group of migrants they would be moved from a London hotel to a Kent barracks, but this was met with protests due to the “huge distress” in the run-up to Christmas.
Hussein Haseeb Ahmed, 31, died in hospital in Margate on 19 November after being held at the Manston migrant processing facility after crossing the Channel a week earlier.
The Home Office initially said there was no evidence he died from an infectious disease, but a follow-up test for diphtheria was positive, indicating this may have been the cause.
An inquest is set to be held next year.
Scotland Yard has launched an investigation after Bob Stewart told an activist to “go back to Bahrain” during a confrontation.
A Metropolitan Police statement read: “On Sunday 18 December police received an online report from a man alleging he had been verbally racially abused.
“The allegation relates to an incident in Cleveland Row, SW1A on Wednesday 14 December.
“Officers from Westminster CID are investigating.”
Yesterday, Mr Stewart told Sky News his comments were “a mistake”.
You can read more from political reporter Sophie Morris here:
The leader of one of the unions representing the ambulance workers going on strike tomorrow has branded a meeting today with Health Secretary Steven Barclay as “pointless”.
The government is refusing to discuss a new pay offer with unions, saying it cannot shift from the recommendation made by the independent pay review body.
Onay Kasab, the national lead officer at Unite, said: “The meeting was made entirely pointless by the attitude of Stephen Barclay, who refused to discuss pay. 
“How he hopes to get movement and resolve the dispute without discussing the key issue is mystifying.
“It is disgraceful that the government is failing to take action to avoid NHS strikes, the unions are willing to talk, but the government isn’t.
“Barclay was only prepared to talk about derogations, which was futile as these have been thrashed out and agreed down to a fine tooth-comb at a local level.
“His appeal that the agreements on emergency cover are respected was frankly insulting. 
“Our members are taking strike action as an absolute last resort as they witness the NHS crumble on a daily basis. 
“Not only are they committed to covering emergency calls tomorrow, but our members will immediately leave picket lines if a trust for any reason can’t cope with emergencies.”
Rishi Sunak had one aim during his appearance in front of the Liaison Committee of senior MPs, says political editor Beth Rigby, to not commit news.
She says the prime minister was evasive in his answers, but adds there were still some interesting lines in his 90-minute grilling:
A union has criticised Downing Street as “disingenuous” for suggesting that paramedics earn £47,000. 
Speaking to political journalists this morning, the prime minister’s spokesman said that paramedic’s total earnings tend to be around £47,000.
But paramedics are on band six of the NHS pay scale – which starts at £33,706 and maxes out at £40,588.
Senior and specialist paramedics can make more, but ambulance practitioners are band 4 – on a salary of £23,949 to £26,282.
A spokesperson for Unison said the comments from Downing Street were “not accurate”, and it was “disingenuous” of the government to suggest that people working in ambulances made so much money.
But it is understood the spokesman was likely referring to ambulance workers receiving extra pay for unsocial hours, overtime and other supplements.
In the midst of a winter of industrial unrest, the PM is pressed on whether he thinks the independent pay review body is working.
Rishi Sunak says the pay review body has been in existence for a long time, but that hasn’t stopped the government ignoring their recommendations before and criticism changing circumstances – like the war in Ukraine – mean their recommendations are out of date.
The PM says he can’t budge on NHS pay because it would exacerbate inflation, but there is a degree of public sympathy for striking nurses and a deal reached with some unions in Scotland won’t help the government’s line that pay rises are “unaffordable”.
The government blame outside factors, but the PM being pitched against workers is an uneasy dynamic that won’t end well.

Mr Sunak is asked where his independent ethics adviser is, after he said it would be one of the first things he would do.
He says he wants to make an announcement soon.
This comes from a supplementary question from Catherine McKinnell.
She then asks about fraud during the COVID pandemic, and whether he regrets ignoring warnings on fraud.
Mr Sunak says there have been “dozens and dozens of arrests, billions of pounds recovered”.
He says it is not the “right characterisation” to say he ignored fraud.
Joanna Cherry asks whether it is right to say the “British baccalaureate” would not apply to Scotland as education is devolved.
He agrees, saying the term is used as it makes a nice alliteration.
Alicia Kearns wants to know whether the new integrated review will explicitly reference Taiwan and the Balkans.
Mr Sunak says he will go over all the normal things someone would expect a prime minister to do when evaluating an integrated review.
And with that, the committee appearance finishes – just a few minutes over time.
Turning to the next topic, Robin Walker asks about “strong rumours” that the UK and EU are working towards a Valentine’s Day agreement on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The protocol is a trading arrangement made during Brexit talks that allows goods to be transported across the Irish land border without the need for checks.
In response, Rishi Sunak says he has not put an “arbitrary or strict deadline” on conversations.
He says this would not necessarily be helpful, but that the government wants to see the problem fixed and “talks are ongoing”.
The idea of a fuel duty rise, costing ordinary people grappling with the cost of living more at the pump, will set alarm bells ringing among some Tory MPs. 
Harriet Baldwin asks the PM if he can confirm there won’t be an automatic 12p rise in spring, Rishi Sunak says it’s up to the chancellor to make tax policy.
A potential end to the fuel duty cut made earlier this year is a sensitive subject, one raised by a number of MPs on the day of the autumn statement.
After a bleak autumn statement, there is an expectation among many there will be better news in the spring statement in March.
A fuel duty rise would save the government a much needed £6bn, but in the midst of a cost of living crisis it would be a hard sell that could well inflame Tory tensions.

Philip Dunne, the chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, jumps in with a question about the UK’s disentanglement from the EU.
He raises the point that many parts of European law set to be removed from UK statute books by the end of next year interface with UK green policy.
Mr Dunne wants an assurance that environmental provisions will not be disturbed.
The PM says the second reading of the bill removing EU law ensured it “would not weaken environmental protections”.
He adds that a public dashboard relating to the laws being rescinded will be updated in the new year.
Sir Bernard Jenkin, the chair of the Liaison Committee, suggests that Mr Sunak allows departments to consult on laws about to be revoked, a suggestion the PM says he will take away.
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