Keir Starmer promises to end ‘talk tough, do nothing’ approach to Channel crossings

Keir Starmer promises to end ‘talk tough, do nothing’ approach to Channel crossings

Labour will divert millions of pounds earmarked for Rwanda deportation flights to set up a new body to tackle criminal smuggling gangs, Sir Keir Starmer will announce today.

In a keynote speech laying out the party’s plans to end the Conservatives’ “talk tough, do nothing” approach to Channel crossings, the Labour leader will promise new powers to clamp down on smugglers and hundreds of specialist investigators.

And in a warning to those behind small boat crossings, Sir Keir will say: “These shores will become hostile territory for you.”

Despite Rishi Sunak repeatedly promising to “stop the boats”, arrivals across the Channel this year are at a record high. The prime minister’s flagship Rwanda scheme is set to deport the first migrants to Kigali this summer, but has shown no sign of deterring migrants since passing into law.

Now, Labour is planning to divert some of the £75m allocated to the scheme to fund a new Border Security Command, which it says will be modelled on the office for security and counterterrorism.

The party will also install a new so-called border security commander to work across intelligence agencies to protect the UK’s border.

And Labour will hire hundreds of intelligence agents and cross-border police officers to support the Border Security Command and tackle smuggling gangs.

At a speech on the Kent coast, days after the defection of Dover MP Natalie Elphicke, Sir Keir will reiterate Labour’s commitment to scrap the beleaguered Rwanda scheme.

The Labour leader will say: “Rebuilding our asylum system has become a test of political strength, a trial of leadership to resist the voices who fundamentally do not want to rebuild a functioning asylum system.

“It’s become a question of whether you can prioritise, at all times, the politics of practical solutions, and reject the politics of performative symbols – the gimmicks and gestures.”

Sir Keir will attack the “rank incompetence” of the Conservatives on immigration, accusing Mr Sunak of creating a permanent backlog of asylum seekers by refusing to process their claims.

“Even if they have absolutely no right to be here they cannot be removed, billing the taxpayer for expensive hotel accommodation … the government has achieved the complete opposite of what they claim,” he will say.

Sir Keir will add: “A Travelodge amnesty, handed out by the Tory party that, if nothing else, is warmer and safer than spending winter under canvas near a beach in northern France. If you don’t think that’s what the gangs are telling the people they exploit – you don’t know them.”

Among the measures set to be proposed by Sir Keir are new border control stop and searches, building on powers created in 2000 by the Terrorism Act, along with new financial investigation powers and search and seizure warrants targeting organised immigration crime.

Meanwhile the new Border Security Command would bring together agencies including the National Crime Agency, Immigration Enforcement and MI5.

Some 8,826 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel so far this year, provisional Home Office figures show.

This is up 32 per cent on this time last year, when 6,691 migrants were recorded, and a 14 per cent rise compared with the same period in 2022 (7,750).

Campaigners warned that the current asylum system is in “meltdown” and is “only going to get worse” unless urgent changes are made.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said “whoever is in government” must focus on ensuring fairness in the system above anything else, adding: “The Illegal Migration Act must be scrapped immediately, along with plans to ship people off on a one-way ticket to Rwanda.

“Instead of wasting time on legislation that bans the right to asylum and dehumanises people who simply need safety, there must be a fair, efficient and humane asylum system.”

And Refugee Action chief executive Tom Naor Hilton said: “Whoever makes up the next government, they must end this hostile environment and build a refugee protection system that respects people’s right to claim asylum, creates safe routes to reach the UK, and tackles the racism that lies at the heart of immigration policy.”

Home secretary James Cleverly said: “Rather than starting the flights and stopping the boats, Sir Keir Starmer’s big new idea is an amnesty for all illegal immigrants, scrapping our Rwanda plan even if it’s working.

“Nobody believes Keir Starmer wants to control our borders when he previously said immigration controls are ‘racist’ and blocked the deportation of violent sexual offenders. Actions speak louder than words, Keir Starmer will never be on the side of the British people.”