Sir Keir Starmer insisted closer cooperation was needed with the European Union (EU) on the small boats crisis in the face of claims he would hand control of immigration policy back to Brussels.
The Labour leader indicated he could be prepared to do a deal with Brussels which would see the UK take a quota of asylum seekers who arrive in the bloc in exchange for the ability to return people who cross the English Channel.
But he insisted that his focus was on ensuring an anti-terrorism style international crackdown could smash the gangs behind the ‘vile’ trade to stop people leaving France in small boats.
Sir Keir visited The Hague, in the Netherlands, for talks with the EU’s Europol law enforcement agency.
Deepening intelligence ties with Europe under a new post-Brexit security pact and boosting powers to restrict the movement of those suspected of organised immigration crime would form part of Labour’s plan.
But the Tories seized on the suggestion that he would be prepared to negotiate with Brussels on accepting a migrant quota under an EU-wide returns deal for those crossing the Channel.
Home secretary Suella Braverman said Sir Keir would let the UK become a “dumping ground” for Europe’s migrants.
But Sir Keir argued that under the Tories “we are not deciding, as a country, who is coming to the UK – the gangs are deciding”.
Labour says it would work on a new agreement to share real-time intelligence with the EU similar to the Schengen Information System II, a database of terror suspects and immigration offenders which the UK had automatic access to before Brexit.
The party has also vowed to strengthen powers to restrict movement of people smugglers by making it quicker and easier to obtain civil orders, known as serious crime prevention orders, which are used to target offenders such as terrorists and drug traffickers.
More British officers would be stationed in Europe under the plans, with a “cross-border police force” focused solely on disrupting criminal gangs, Labour said.
Speaking to The Times, Sir Keir said he would also seek an EU-wide returns agreement for asylum seekers arriving in Britain, which may involve a “quid pro quo” of accepting migrants.
“That would be part of any discussions and negotiations with Europe,” he told The Times. He would not be drawn on the number of asylum seekers he would be happy to take in under a deal with the EU.
Funding for the measures would be redirected from the government’s plan to send asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda, which is currently held up in the courts.
Responding to his plans, Braverman said: “He’ll let Brussels decide who comes to the UK. He’ll agree to make Britain the dumping ground for many of the millions of illegal migrants that Europe doesn’t want. And none of this will stop the boats.”
A hard-line stance on immigration crime will be seen as important to convince swing voters Labour can be trusted to stem the flow of Channel crossings, now at over 23,000 this year.
Sir Keir’s meeting at The Hague comes ahead of a trip to Canada, for a “progressive” summit, while he may meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris next week.
He could also be eyeing a White House meeting with US President Joe Biden in the coming months, whose “Bidenomics” and landmark green subsidies attracted Labour’s admiration.
Press Association – David Hughes and Nina Lloyd