Jacob Rees-Mogg tells military chief to 'do what you're told' amid strikes row

  • Jacob Rees-Mogg has criticised an army chief for weighing in on the government's position on strikes

  • Army chief Sir Tony Radakin had warned the military does not have 'spare capacity' to use troops to fill in for public sector walk outs

  • The government held an emergency COBRA meeting today ahead of another week of strikes

  • Read Rees-Mogg and Radakin's remarks below

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 25: Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Jacob Rees-Mogg leaves Downing Street after attending the final cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Liz Truss in London, United Kingdom on October 25, 2022. (Photo by Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Jacob Rees-Mogg has criticised a military chief for expressing concern about the government using military personnel to fill in for strikers. (Getty Images)

Jacob Rees-Mogg has told the military to stay out of the row between strikers and the government after the head of the British Armed Forces expressed concern he did not have "spare capacity" to fill in for workers.

Nurses, ambulance staff, rail workers, teachers, border force and postal workers are among a swathe of public sector workers taking part in mass walkouts across the country this month.

Last week David Williams, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, said the department had identified up to 2,500 military personnel to help in the public sector as ambulance workers and border staff prepare to walk out.

In a newspaper interview at the weekend, Sir Tony Radakin, the head of Britain’s Armed Forces, stated he wanted to be "really careful to not get drawn into this".

Read more: What strikes are happening in December?

“I’ve taken a very straightforward approach, which is that the Armed Forces serve the nation," Radakin told the Telegraph.

"We get directed by the government and therefore avoid those political debates.”

His remarks came in response to questions as to whether military service personnel should be compensated for losing their Christmasses to cover for strikes - particularly given they have no legal right to withdraw their labour despite a 3.75% pay rise.

However, he added: “We’re not spare capacity. We’re busy and we’re doing lots of things on behalf of the nation. We’ve got to focus on our primary role.”

Newly appointed head of UK Armed Forces, Chief of Defence Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, during an interview with the media at Edinburgh Castle.Picture date: Wednesday June 15, 2022. (Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images)
Chief of Defence Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, said the military was not at "spare capacity" as the government plans to use military personnel to stand in for public sector workers on strike. (Getty Images)

But former cabinet minister Rees-Mogg criticised Radakin for the remarks - saying he was "surprised" and that the military chief was "sounding off".

"I think the job of the military is to do what they're told by civilian authorities," said Rees-Mogg. "It's not for the military to be expressing their views. I don't think this is constitutionally how it should be.

"The military are not there to be making political statements about what they will or won't do, that should be private so I'm surprised that he's making these comments."

His remarks come as a growing number of public sector workers threaten more strikes after a decade of austerity saw pay-packets shrink and inflation soar past earnings.

Read more: Strikes to cause severe disruption to Christmas Eve getaways

The government's COBRA emergency committee met on Monday morning to discuss the response to the wave of industrial action.

Downing Street has said that it is still not too late for unions to call off a series of planned strikes this week in the NHS and other public services.

The prime minister's official spokesman said: “We would expect, given this late stage, there to be some sort of disruption either way but it is still in the gift of the unions to step back and reconsider their approach.

“We are open to further talks if they are willing to have them. We believe we have taken a fair and reasonable approach throughout, including by accepting the pay body’s recommendation in full."

Watch: Rail strikes 'key' reason for slump in high street visits ahead of Christmas