‘I was not across the details of the case,’ foreign secretary says – after comments branded ‘a new low for Labour’
The shadow foreign secretary sparked anger in Labour circles for his weekend criticism, with Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, saying: “Supporting bad bosses is a new low for Labour.”
Now Mr Lammy has pulled back, arguing he “misheard” a question on the BBC and wrongly believed the BA staff were striking to try to win a 10 per cent pay increase.
In fact, unions are seeking to reverse a 10 per cent pay cut imposed on workers during the pandemic, when global lockdowns grounded flights – not a pay rise.
In a letter to a constituent, Mr Lammy wrote: “Last Sunday, in a live interview with the BBC, I misheard Sophie Raworth’s question about BA workers.
“When she said that workers wanted to reverse a previous pay cut of 10 per cent, I mistakenly understood it to mean that they were seeking an above-inflation pay rise.
“I was not across the details of the case. It is right that those of us in public life admit when they have made a mistake. With this in mind, I apologise to all BA workers.”
In his weekend comments, Mr Lammy appeared to toughen Labour’s stance ahead of a “Summer of Discontent”, saying: “I don’t support strikes,” before adding “I support the right to strike of course.”
On the rail strikes, he said: “It hurts working people who need to get to work by using the railway. And of course, those within the union are hurt as well.”
Keir Starmer has since backed down on a threat to sack Labour frontbenchers who joined picket lines, after an internal party revolt.
In his leaked letter, Mr Lammy added that he supported Labour’s call for shameful “fire and rehire” tactics – used against BA workers during the pandemic – to be banned.
Mr Lammy was also criticised by John McDonnell, Labour’s former shadow chancellor, who said striking rail workers were right to seek “protection against the cost of living”.
The chair of Young Labour, Jess Barnard, attacked the party leadership for “sending out its senior politicians to attack 50 of its own MPs and thousands of workers on national television”.
The respected backbencher Jon Cruddas, an adviser to Tony Blair on unions, said Labour must back families facing a historic slump in their incomes.
“The rail strikes are arguably the canary down the coalmine. You cannot dodge this. Labour has to be supportive of those seeking to defend their living standards,” Mr Cruddas said.