Patrick Wintour

The army are on standby to keep Britain’s borders secure and handle passport queues during Wednesday’s strikes over public service pensions, Francis Maude has confirmed.

The Cabinet Office minister also told unions that they have until the end of the year to accept the government’s current offer or it will be taken off the table – the first time that ministers have set a deadline for talks to be concluded.

“We have said there needs to be agreement on the main elements by the end of this year, and if there isn’t, we absolutely reserve the right to take those elements off the table,” Maude told Sky News.

Details of the military’s duties were being discussed by the UK Borders Agency, but Maude said he expected soldiers to man the passport queues, admitting it would not be a great image for Britain to project.

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