I gave Labour’s response to the Tories Illegal Migration Bill last night.
My full speech is below:
“Because this has been such an incredibly well-subscribed debate, in the time available to me I will not be able to thank all my hon. Friends individually for their excellent contributions, so I hope they will forgive me for thanking them all collectively. I also want to thank some Conservative Members for their excellent and insightful contributions, particularly, of course, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead.
I am old enough to remember a Conservative Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witham, standing at that Dispatch Box and promising the House that her new Nationality and Borders Bill would
“deter illegal entry to the UK…break the business model of the smuggling gangs and protect the lives of those whom they are endangering.”
Fast-forward two years, and scroll your way through a few more Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries, and here we are again having to listen to the same old reheated rhetoric and empty promises. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Conservative party likes to claim that it stands for secure borders, but when the last Labour Government left office in 2010, fewer than 10,000 people were waiting for a decision for a claim for asylum. The number now stands at more than 160,000, the highest since records began. Conservative Members will also recognise that the number of failed asylum seekers being returned has decreased by an astonishing 80% since 2010. The reality is that, since 2010, successive Conservative Governments have lost control of our borders, and the people smugglers are laughing all the way to the bank.
Another bit of nonsense being peddled on the Conservative Benches is that this Bill will stop the boats. Everyone agrees that the small boat crossings must be stopped. Thousands of people are risking life and limb, and it is utterly appalling that the people smugglers are making millions from this trade in human misery. The fundamental question is whether the measures in the Bill can reasonably be expected to solve the problem, and the answer to that question is a clear and resounding no. In fact, if the Bill were passed, it would actively make matters worse by adding further to the enormous asylum backlog, and by piling further cost on to the staggering £7 million-a-day hotel bill that is currently being picked up by the British taxpayer.
The Government can label channel crossers “inadmissible” or “illegal” all they want, and they can promise that they will be detained and swiftly removed until the cows come home, but the fact is that Ministers are completely unable to answer two obvious and vitally important questions: “Detained where?” and “Removed to where?” Rwanda is a non-starter because the Rwandan Government can only take 200—and how on earth are the Government planning to send asylum seekers back across the channel unless we have a formal returns agreement with the EU to replace the Dublin convention? Ministers tried all this last year: under the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, they made 18,000 people inadmissible, and how many did they remove or return? Twenty-one. Let me therefore encourage Ministers to drop their obsession with chasing tabloid headlines, and to focus instead on prioritising measures which will actually work.
That brings me to the final myth that needs busting: the idea that we on these Benches have somehow not been putting forward our own proposals. Every single time the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Home Secretary and I have come to this Dispatch Box, we have set out exactly how Labour in government will tackle the small boat crossings and fix an asylum system that has been utterly broken by 13 years of Tory incompetence and indifference, but it appears Conservative Members have not been paying attention, so let me remind them of our plan.
First, we will scrap the unaffordable, unworkable and unethical Rwanda scheme, and redirect all that wasted taxpayer money into resourcing a 100-strong elite cross- border police unit to relentlessly pursue the real enemy—the ruthless criminal gangs and traffickers—and ensure that we tackle this upstream, working with the French and across Europe to defeat the gangs.
Secondly, we will negotiate a returns agreement with the EU as a matter of urgency. Successive Conservative Governments since 2016 have focused on trashing relations with our European partners and allies, so the Prime Minister has a mountain to climb in rebuilding the trust that will be required as the basis of securing a returns deal. We wish him well, but the reality is that it is going to take a Labour Government to pick up the pieces and succeed where this Government have so badly failed.
Thirdly, we will introduce long overdue measures to get a grip on the decision-making process for asylum claims. We will clear the backlog once and for all by establishing an effective triage system and by reversing the absurd and incomprehensible decision to downgrade the seniority of key Home Office officials. Fourthly, while the Government do little more than pay lip service to the idea of safe and legal routes, we will act to fix the current resettlement programmes, including the broken Afghanistan pathways.
It is time to let the grown-ups back into the room. Three years ago, many people who had never voted Tory before putting their trust in this Government because they wanted secure borders, controlled migration and competent governance, but absolutely none of those things has been delivered. So it is little wonder that the country has had enough of a Government who cynically bring forward Bills that are far more about scapegoating and slogans than they are about solutions, and it is little wonder that it has had enough of a Government who know that they cannot stand on their record and who are instead planning to fight the general election on a platform that is all about stoking anxiety, fear and division.
The good news is that the British people are not stupid. They watch as Conservative Ministers blame everyone else for their own failures: they blame the civil servants; they blame the lawyers; they blame the European Union and the ECHR; and they even blame the football pundits. But our constituents know exactly where the buck stops. They know that the day is approaching when they will be able to vote for a Labour Government who will tackle the small boats crisis and deal with the myriad other challenges and crises that our country is facing after 13 years of Tory failure, and they know that that day cannot come soon enough”.