Starmer to tackle small boats gangs

Starmer to tackle small boats gangs

Labour will use new counter-terrorism powers to tackle people-smuggling gangs bringing migrants across the Channel in small boats

In a speech on the Kent coast, the Labour leader will set out his party’s plans to tackle the small boats crisis if it wins the general election.

Sir Keir is expected to say Labour will “replace gimmicks with graft”, scrapping the Government’s Rwanda scheme and using some of the money saved to fund a new “elite Border Security Command” led by a former police, military or intelligence chief.

Attacking the Government’s approach as “rank incompetence”, he is expected to dismiss the Rwanda scheme as being unable to provide an effective deterrent and accuse the Conservatives of operating a “Travelodge amnesty” by housing migrants in hotels rather than processing their claims.

Sir Keir will also stress his experience as the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service and pledge to make Britain “hostile territory” for people smugglers.

He will say: “Let’s be clear at the start, these are criminal enterprises we are dealing with.

“A business that pits nation against nation, thrives in the grey areas of our rules, the cracks between our institutions, where, they believe, they can exploit some of the most vulnerable people in the world with impunity.

“It’s a vile trade that preys on the desperation and hope it finds in its victims.”

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.

The new Border Security Command would bring together agencies including the National Crime Agency, Immigration Enforcement and MI5, while Labour will also pledge to hire hundreds of new specialist investigators to work across the UK and Europe to tackle people smuggling.

Sir Keir 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.”

The speech comes after the defection of Dover MP Natalie Elphicke, who joined Labour from the Conservatives on Wednesday, accusing the Prime Minister of failing to deliver on his promise to “stop the boats”.

Welcoming Ms Elphicke to the Labour Party, Sir Keir said: “What is the point of this failed Government staggering on when the Tory MP for Dover, on the front line of the small boats crisis, says the Prime Minister cannot be trusted with our borders and joins Labour?”

Ms Elphicke’s defection was greeted with surprise by Conservatives, with Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron saying it showed Labour stood for nothing and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan saying she was a “very odd fit” for the opposition.

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% on this time last year, when 6,691 migrants were recorded, and a 14% rise compared with the same period in 2022 (7,750), according to PA news agency analysis of the data.

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.”

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