Sir Keir Starmer has ‘no doubt’ Rwanda flights will get off ground – but Labour would cancel scheme ‘straight away’ | Politics News

Sir Keir Starmer has said he has no doubt the government will get flights off the ground to Rwanda but Labour would “cancel the scheme straight away” if they win the next general election.

The Labour leader, announcing his party’s policy on illegal immigration in Dover, said the government’s flagship policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda will not work.

“They will get flights off the ground, I don’t doubt that but I also don’t doubt it will not work,” he said.

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When asked by Sky News political editor Beth Rigby if that means he would stop any deportation flights to Rwanda on day one of a Labour government, he said: “We will scrap the Rwanda scheme.

“I said that to you when we last met last week, the time before last and you know, that means ending the scheme.

“Absolutely. Flights and all.”

He added: “We will cancel the scheme – of course that means we won’t operate the scheme at all, it’s a gimmick, I won’t flog a dead horse.

“We’re going to get rid of the policy straight away.”

Labour later clarified the party would not stop any flights already planned but would not schedule any further.

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‘Small boat crossings is one of the greatest challenges we face’

The government’s Rwanda scheme, aimed at deterring asylum seekers arriving in the UK in boats over the Channel, has been stalled by legal arguments but last month was pushed through to become law. However, no flights have yet departed.

The scheme means any asylum seeker entering the UK illegally from a safe country such as France, could be sent to Rwanda where their asylum claims would be processed. They would not be allowed to apply to return to the UK.

As Sir Keir announced Labour’s plans to stop small boats coming across to the UK, Sky News witnessed a Border Force boat with about 70 migrants, including at least one child, disembarking in Dover after being picked up in the Channel.

In the speech in Dover alongside new Labour MP Natalie Elphicke, Sir Keir insisted “our asylum system must be rebuilt”.

As part of Labour’s plan, he announced:

• A new Border Security Command with “hundreds of specialist investigators” from the NCA, Border Force, CPS, MI5 and Immigration Enforcement

• Hopes for a new partnership with Europol and new intelligence-sharing networks

• New counter-terrorism powers to close bank accounts, trace movements and shut off internet access of people smugglers

• A rules-based asylum system with fast-track reforms and an enforcement unit.

Will Labour’s new plan woo voters?

By Darren McCaffrey, political correspondent

Given the impressive GDP figures released this morning, Labour needed a counter narrative to Conserative crowing.

And so it was to Dover and migration for Sir Keir Starmer to put some flesh on the bones of what a Labour government would do to tackle the small boats crisis.

More money, hundreds of more specialist investigators and the involvement of counter terrorism are all part of the plan – funded by savings from abandoning the Tories Rwandan scheme.

It’s fascinating that Starmer now feels confident enough, not only talking about illegal migration (not traditional Labour territory) but taking the government head-on, on an issue that he feels is up for grabs.

It demonstrates Starmer’s strength inside Labour but also the Conservatives perceived weakness on illegal migration.

The Rwanda scheme though, is in principle popular with lots of the public, so if Labour is to abandon it, with this frankly less eye-catching alternative announced today – it leaves one big question – will their plan cut it with voters?

The Labour leader said: “We will restore serious government to our borders, tackle this problem at source and replace the Rwanda policy permanently.”

He said turning a blind eye to people smuggling was “not a progressive or compassionate position” as he outlined his plans to tackle small boat crossings.

He said “our asylum system must be rebuilt and our borders must be secured,” and accused the Tories of being driven from a serious party of government “onto the rocks of their own delusion” in their pursuit of “gesture politics” over immigration.

“Our rules-based system should align with global rules that protect individual human rights,” Sir Keir added.

“That is in our interests and the right thing to do.”

Pic: PA
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, sits with new Labour MP Natalie Elphicke, during a visit to Dover, Kent, to set out his party's plans to tackle the small boats crisis if it wins the general election, with a pledge to end the Conservative party's 'talk tough, do nothing culture' on small boats crossing the English Channel. Picture date: Friday May 10, 2024.
Sir Keir Starmer with new Labour MP Natalie Elphicke. Pic: PA

Sir Keir added that new Labour MP Natalie Elphicke’s defection from the Tories on Wednesday reflected the mood of the country as Rishi Sunak is “clinging on” to power.

Asked if he was concerned about the backlash from within the Labour Party to Ms Elphicke’s defection, he said: “This is a very important and significant crossing of floor for reasons Natalie set out.

“I think anyone reading the words she set out this morning would be persuaded this is a very significant thing, you’ve got a Tory party that is losing votes, losing MPs, losing councillors, losing mayors across the country.”

Reacting to Sir Keir’s announcement, Home Secretary James Cleverly said: “Labour have no plan to stop the boats.

“Labour have an illegal immigration amnesty, Labour blocked of the deportation of violent sexual offenders and Labour voted over 130 times against tougher legislation to stop the boats. They will create a haven for criminal gangs, not stop them.

“Even Labour MPs are saying Labour can’t be trusted to stop the boats which shows you nothing will change.

“If people can apply for asylum from outside the UK then unlimited claims can be made, many of which will have to be accepted under the law and even then, many of those declined will then get on a small boat anyway.”

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