Keir Starmer is to highlight Labour’s policies to combat small boat crossings by asylum seekers, with the party seeing the issue as a way in which they can address a perceived Conservative advantage on immigration issues, it has emerged.
The Labour leader is to meet officials from Europol, the EU’s cross-border law enforcement organisation, in the Hague on Wednesday to discuss his party’s proposals to limit numbers crossing the Channel to the UK unofficially.
On Friday, Starmer will travel to Montreal for a conference of centre-left politicians to call for wider cooperation on people trafficking, and to argue that the wider issue of migration cannot be thought of as one purely for rightwing parties.
Labour’s proposals, first reported by the Sunday Times, come amid a perception within the party that Rishi Sunak’s government is vulnerable over the issue of small boats, given Conservative policies have thus far failed to reduce the number of crossings.
Labour opposes the Sunak policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, and aims to use improved policing and cooperation with other countries as a means to reduce numbers of refugees crossing the Channel, as well to set up some official asylum routes.
Money used for the Rwanda scheme would be redirected to the National Crime Agency to fund a specialist unit focused on cross-border people-smuggling, with officers seconded to work with border officials in other countries.
Another aspect of the Labour plans would be to pay for more asylum caseworkers to try to clear the backlog of more than 175,000 asylum seekers who are awaiting an initial decision on their application.
According to the Sunday Times, while Starmer’s speech to the Labour conference in Liverpool in early October will be based around hope for the country, the party wants to first set out a message of “reassurance” on its efforts to reduce the number of Channel crossings.
The paper said Starmer and his strategists believe Sunak’s inability to significantly curb unofficial arrivals, despite this being one of his five main policy pledges, gives an opening to Labour.
A senior Labour source told the Sunday Times: “In the election, we think this is an argument we can win. We have never seen immigration as a distraction. It’s a real issue that voters are rightfully concerned about. We have never subscribed to this notion that it’s not progressive to want strong borders.”
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