The illegal migration bill has now gained royal assent. Make no mistake, it is a con. The Labour Party is clear that the dangerous Channel crossings must stop and unsuitable asylum hotel use needs to end. But this new Tory legislation will achieve none of that.
It is a reflection of the Prime Minister’s failure to do what he promised in January: stop the boats. Despite Rishi Sunak’s recent victory jig in Dover, last month bore witness to a June record of 3,824 crossings. Asylum costs have soared seven-fold since the Tories took office – to an eye-watering £3.6bn a year – with the asylum backlog passing 170,000, up nine-fold since 2010.
The bill is also the latest example of the Conservatives’ government-by-gimmick approach – a strategy based on talking tough and stoking division in order to secure tabloid front pages, rather than offer any sensible solutions. Previous mad-cap ideas for deterrents have included pushing back boats into dangerous waters, introducing a ‘giant wave machine’ in the Channel and removing Mickey Mouse artwork for children from welcome centres. You couldn’t make it up.
This latest piece of legislation may sound slightly more serious – but it is not. It is utterly unworkable and extortionately expensive. This is because it stops the Home Secretary from processing applications and forces her to detain small boat asylum seekers, despite having nowhere to detain them, therefore putting them up indefinitely at taxpayers’ expense. It forces her to remove them to a third country, but she has nowhere to remove them to. Rwanda is not the answer. Last year, the Conservative government paid Rwanda £140m for the world’s most expensive press release. 15 months on, the government has sent more Home Secretaries to Rwanda than asylum seekers.
The legislation is therefore fundamentally flawed because it is unworkable and unaffordable. But it is also deeply unethical, as it also makes it harder for victims of modern slavery to come forward and harder to prosecute criminals. It is a traffickers’ charter, a gift to traffickers and pimps.
During the passage of the bill, the Lords did all they could to protect vulnerable children and pregnant women from long periods in detention, but the government kept voting down Labour-backed amendments. The Conservatives also voted against tougher action on criminal smuggler gangs, against action to reduce the asylum backlog, against international cooperation on border security, safe returns and family reunion and against government consultation with local councils on the most appropriate asylum accommodation. At every stage, Labour sought to improve this legislation, and at every stage, the Conservatives stood in our way.
So what is Labour’s alternative? Our values tell us that the dangerous Channel crossings must end. Our comprehensive plan is based on common sense, hard graft and quiet diplomacy.
Firstly, Labour would redirect spending from the unworkable Rwanda scheme to set up a new cross-border police unit in the National Crime Agency to crack down on smuggling gangs upstream. Officers would be based in the UK and throughout Europe, in collaboration with international allies and Europol. This would go far beyond simply puncturing dinghies and slashing tents on the French beaches.
Second, we would clear the backlog by fast-tracking processing and returns for low grant rate countries. The Home Office is making 9,000 fewer asylum decisions a year than in 2015, leaving people waiting in limbo for an average of 450 days at an extortionate cost. This decline in standards relates directly to the Conservative government’s decision in 2013 to downgrade decision-maker pay and status.
Third, we would negotiate an agreement with France and the EU on safe returns and family reunion.
Fourth, Labour will act to fix the problems starting with the current resettlement programmes – including the broken Afghan schemes.
Finally, we would tackle humanitarian crises at source helping refugees in their region.
We have confidence in our sensible plan. The Conservatives have lost all common sense and decency. They are wasting time and trying the patience of the British people. They should get out of the way and let the adults take over.
My full article on LabourList is available below:
‘Dangerous Channel crossings must end. Unlike the Tories, Labour has a real plan’ – LabourList | Latest UK Labour Party news, analysis and comment