Rishi Sunak makes surprise Christmas calls to public servants amid strikes

Watch this year's official Christmas messages from UK leaders

Rishi Sunak has broken with tradition to record phone calls with public servants thanking them for their “selflessness” instead of broadcasting a Christmas message to the nation.

The Prime Minister made apparently surprise calls to four workers and the crew of a naval ship to express his gratitude for their “sacrifices” after an “extraordinary year”.

Footage of the messages published on Friday comes during a Christmas being strained by widespread public sector walkouts hitting the NHS, the postal service and transport networks, and a wider cost of living crisis straining household budgets.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer used his Christmas message to reflect on the struggle of the Ukrainian people.

Mr Sunak’s two months in office were first characterised by trying to rectify the economic chaos created by his predecessor Liz Truss and now by a wave of industrial action.

Royal Mail strikes disrupted deliveries of Christmas cards and presents, while strikes on the railways and by Border Force were affecting journeys home.

Armed forces personnel were being paid £20 bonuses for standing in for striking workers.

Matt Tacey has said that the NHS ‘isn’t at breaking point, the NHS is broken’ Credit: Peter Powell/PA

Nurses are planning walkouts on two consecutive days next month, adding to the pressure on the health service being compounded this winter by both the nursing strikes and action from ambulance staff.

By calling the HMS Protector crew and diplomats in Pakistan, Somalia and Ukraine, and a holiday activities and food programme 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.

“This year has been an extraordinary year for so many reasons, but most of all, it’s been a year in which the true spirit and resilience of the United Kingdom has been on show, from the support given to our Ukrainian friends, to the work being done to ensure essential aid reaches the most vulnerable overseas.

“And closer to home, those who have checked on friends and neighbours, 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.”

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy wished the PM and the people of the UK a merry Christmas in response to Mr Sunak's message, as his country continues to fight a Russian invasion.

The wartime leader wrote on Twitter: "I’m grateful to Rishi Sunak and the entire British people! We feel your support.

"We feel the light and the warmth of your hearts. Light always prevails over darkness. Thus together, we will defeat evil and restore peace in Ukraine, Europe, and the world. Merry Christmas, friends!

In a traditional Christmas address, Sir Keir 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.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has shared his festive traditions Credit: Labour Party/PA

“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.”

Sir Keir is spending Christmas with his family in London.

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.

Nicola Sturgeon has hailed emergency service workers amid “tough times” in her Christmas message.

Scotland’s First Minister offered a “heartfelt thanks” to workers who will be on duty providing vital services in the health, policing and fire services over the festive period.

Delivering her message from her official residence at Bute House in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon wished Scots the “best possible” Christmas following turbulent periods caused by the Covid pandemic and lockdowns.

She acknowledged families who will be facing difficult times because of the cost of living crisis, and urged people to help in whatever way they can.

She said she wants to thank those “for whom Christmas isn’t a holiday at all” - such as health and emergency workers, and the armed forces.

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