Wednesday evening news briefing: The day the UK stood still

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Good evening. As one of the biggest strikes in a generation ground the country to a halt today, we have analysis of which groups of workers have the most, and least, support from the public. We also have the latest from the US, after Joe Biden's beach house was searched by the FBI.

Evening briefing: Today's essential headlines

Brexit | Michel Barnier said the door is open for Britain to rejoin the EU “any time”, before warning the UK not to tear up Brussels regulations after Brexit. Mr Barnier, the former Brexit negotiator, said diverging too far from EU rules now would make it more difficult for Britain to rejoin the bloc in future. Brussels also said that EU judges will continue to have jurisdiction over Northern Ireland under the new Brexit deal on the Irish Sea border.

The big story: One of the largest strikes in a decade

Schools closed across swathes of the country today, as teachers joined train drivers, civil servants, airport and university staff in taking industrial action.

The National Education Union (NEU) estimated that 85 per cent of schools in England and Wales were affected by teacher walkouts. Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the NEU, said it was "no cause for celebration, but an indication of the level of anger amongst our members".

Union leaders added that the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, needed to "step up with concrete and meaningful proposals" on teachers’ pay to prevent further strikes.

However, Ms Keegan said this morning that public sector demands for double digit pay rises were "economically incoherent". She added that reports of teachers having to rely on food banks because they are not paid enough were "not credible".

Those on strike today will shortly be joined by thousands of ambulance workers and nurses who are taking action on February 6. We have analysis from Ben Butcher looking at what each union wants, how many workers they estimate will walkout, and what proportion of the public supports their demands.

Unsurprisingly, nurses have strong support with two-thirds of the public backing their industrial action. However, not all of those on strike have this level of support and you can find out what group of workers has the lowest public backing by clicking here.

Strike day PMQs

PMQs was unsurprisingly dominated by debate on today's strikes, as Rishi Sunak accused Sir Keir Starmer of siding with "extremist protesters and union bosses", as they clashed over public sector industrial action.

The Prime Minister told the Commons that the Labour leader had voted "with the unions to oppose minimum safety levels" and "with Just Stop Oil to water down the Public Order Bill". Sir Keir hit back and said: "After 13 years in power, trying to blame the Labour Party for his failure to sort out the strikes is rank pathetic."

Jack Maidment writes that today's PMQs was one of the most predictable in history, with the Labour leader only wanting to talk about allegations of Tory sleaze and the Prime Minister attempting to focus on Labour's failure to condemn public sector strike action.

RMT considers 'revised' pay offer

Despite today's strikes on the railways, there may be some hope for commuters, as the RMT said it was considering a “revised offer” from Network Rail in its long-running dispute over pay.

The deal reportedly includes the 9pc pay offer over two years that was rejected by union bosses in December, but with added reforms to modernisation plans. It includes moving staff on 40-hour week contracts to 35 hours over time, and an increase in London allowances.

Meanwhile, pubs and restaurants fear this week's strikes will cost them £100 million in sales as lunch reservations plummet.

Comment and analysis

World news: FBI searches Joe Biden's beach house

FBI agents are searching a beach house belonging to Joe Biden as part of an investigation into the potential mishandling of classified documents, the president’s lawyer said today. It is the latest uncomfortable development for Mr Biden as he prepares to launch his re-election campaign later this month. He had previously condemned his predecessor, Donald Trump, as irresponsible after classified documents were found at his home in Florida.

Wednesday interview

Oscar nominee Kerry Condon: ‘It’s not the sole purpose of my life to turn a man on’

The Oscar-nominated actress opens up about her mercurial career, dealing with fame, and not feeling the urge to have children

Read the interview

Sport news: Wales bans choir from singing 'Delilah'

The Welsh Rugby Union has banned 'Delilah' from being sung by a choir at the Principality Stadium. Telegraph Sport understands that the Welsh rugby anthem, which is about a jealous lover stabbing his unfaithful partner, will not be performed in Cardiff during the Six Nations. Charles Richardson and James Corrigan write that the ban comes after allegations of sexism, racism and misogyny within the WRU. Meanwhile, Charlie Morgan reports that Joe Marchant is set to be recalled to England’s starting line-up to face Scotland on Saturday, with Manu Tuilagi in line to be dropped from the squad entirely.

Editor's choice

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Business news: Pension triple lock ‘unsustainable’

The state pension triple lock is "not sustainable" and must be scaled back to ensure the Government can afford to support future retirees, a think-tank has warned. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said growth in pensioner benefits had far outstripped spending on working-age payments since 2010, when former chancellor George Osborne began cutting back benefits. Prioritising pensioners implied a “significant intergenerational transfer”, which the IFS said might not be as generous in the long-term.

Tonight starts now

How to spot rare green comet tonight in once in 50,000 years chance | A rare comet has made its closest pass to Earth, giving stargazers a once-in-50,000-year opportunity to see it. The C/2022 E3 (ZTF), or "green comet," was last visible during the Stone Age, but will be once again visible on Wednesday in a rare astrological occurrence - find out when and where to look for it by clicking here.

Three things for you

And finally... for this evening's downtime

24 things to do this February without spending a fortune | To save you from any February financial gloom, we’ve put together a guide on how to have fun this month without blowing your budget.

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