Rishi Sunak has opted against a traditional Christmas message and has instead thanked public servants as his government remains deadlocked in bitter industrial disputes with striking workers.
The prime minister made four apparently surprise calls to diplomats and the crew of a naval ship to express his gratitude for their “sacrifices” after an “extraordinary year” – in a break with tradition from the usual Christmas broadcast to the nation.
Footage of the calls published on Friday comes during a winter being strained by widespread public sector walkouts hitting the NHS, the postal service and transport networks.
PM ‘personally grateful for sacrifice’
By calling the HMS Protector crew and diplomats in Pakistan, Somalia and Ukraine, and a holiday activities and food program in London, Mr Sunak was seeking to portray the value he places on public service.
In a statement, he said: “Whether you are working in Mogadishu or Milton Keynes this Christmas, I want you to know that I am personally grateful for your sacrifice.”
He added: “Those who have checked on friends and neighbors, volunteers, public servants and essential service staff all working over Christmas – I am truly humbled by your dedication and I know your selflessness this festive season will spread cheer across the country.”
Rishi Sunak ‘sad and disappointed’ by strikes
Mr Sunak will spend his first Christmas as prime minister in his constituency of Richmond in North Yorkshire, with Downing Street saying he will be updated on any urgent issues while taking some time off.
He has faced a tumultuous two months in office, first characterized by trying to rectify the economic chaos created by his predecessor Liz Truss, scandals in his new cabinet and now by the wave of industrial action.
His message comes as thousands of Border Force staff started the first of a series of strikes at airportsjoining national highways workers and Royal Mail staff in demands for better pay as the cost of living crisis worsens.
Christmas getaways were also impacted by a surge in journeys as people sought to avoid a rush on the roads on Christmas Eve, when rail strikes by the RMT union will resume.
Armed forces personnel have been drafted in to minimize disruption and will be paid £20 daily bonuses for standing in for striking workers over the festive period, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace announced on Friday.
It followed warnings about treating military personnel as “spare capacity” – with industrial action set to continue next year as the government stands firm that it can’t afford to meet demands for inflation-busting pay rises.
Earlier on Friday, nurses announced that they are planning walkouts on two consecutive days next monthcompounding pressure on the health service that has already faced strikes by nurses and ambulance staff.
And the leader of the striking Border Force staff has warned travelers could face months of disruption unless the government makes an improved pay offer, saying there is a “crisis of poverty” within the civil service.
Starmer takes a more traditional approach
In a more traditional address, Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer Reflected on the hardship being faced by Ukrainians as Russian President Vladimir Putin bombards the power grid with missiles as the war grinds into its second year.
“I hope this Christmas is a joyous and relaxing time for you, however you are spending it. I’m looking forward to sharing time with my family, away from the day-to-day of work,” he said.
“But as I do I will be keeping in my heart all those who are working to keep us safe.
“Those looking after the less fortunate, and our friends in Ukraine, facing the horror of Putin’s appalling attacks. Their struggle for freedom inspires us all.”