Keir Starmer says he will scrap British government’s Rwanda scheme

Labour leader sets out plans to reduce migration to UK

Labour leader Keir Starmer has announced new measures to reduce small boat migration to the UK by cracking down on smuggling gangs, as he reiterated his party’s plan to scrap the government’s Rwanda migration scheme.

Speaking in Dover on Friday, Mr Starmer set out the party’s strategy to tackle criminal groups operating in and around Calais and further “upstream” in countries asylum seekers travel through to reach the UK.

The Labour leader’s efforts to convince the public his party has a credible plan to reduce illegal and irregular migration come after one of the Conservative party’s most vocal proponents for a tougher border policy, Dover MP Natalie Elphicke, made a shock defection to the opposition benches on Wednesday.

In a statement, Ms Elphicke, who joined British prime minister Rishi Sunak in Dover to announce the policy, said Mr Sunak had “failed to keep our borders secure and cannot be trusted”.


She said on Friday that a “fresh approach” was needed to deter boat crossings.

Defending Labour’s decision to welcome Ms Elphicke into the party, Mr Starmer said: “It is an invitation that we should be less tribal in the pursuit of a better country and invite people to our party who want to join in our object of national renewal.”

The Labour leader said he would immediately scrap the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda to claim protection there, if his party wins the general election expected this year.

“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,” Mr Starmer said.

“It’s about who the Tories are and the culture in Westminster that rewards the grand gesture and the big talk, while disregarding the small deed and detailed practical action that over time . . . can move a nation forward,” he added.

He said he had “no doubt” the current Government “will get flights off the ground” to Rwanda but added that the plan would “not work” as a deterrent.

Mr Starmer outlined plans to allocate £75 million for a new border security command to work closely with Europol and other European police forces to strengthen security and intelligence sharing. This will include a new commander to oversee hundreds of enforcement and intelligence officers.

David Neal, former chief inspector of borders who was sacked by the home secretary this year, said he would welcome the opportunity to help the Government improve its asylum system and protect the country’s borders.

“If I can contribute in any way to fixing the broken asylum system, of course I will,” he told the Financial Times. “For me, it isn’t about party politics, it’s about getting a grip and helping to fix a hugely important part of our society that should be working better.”

More than 8,500 asylum seekers have arrived in the UK via small boats this year, a 36 per cent increase on the same period last year.

A spokesperson for home secretary James Cleverly criticised Mr Starmer’s announcement, saying the “new plan is the old plan, which is no plan”.

“All our efforts have been on breaking the business model of the criminal smuggling gangs, interdicting the equipment required for small boat crossings, working with European partners to arrest and prosecute smugglers and block their flows of money,” he said.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024