Labour slammed for 'drawing up new Rwanda plan', as Starmer aims to wards off Tory immigration criticism

26 December 2023, 15:37 | Updated: 26 December 2023, 15:44

Starmer is said to be drawing up a revised Rwanda plan
Starmer is said to be drawing up a revised Rwanda plan. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

Labour has been criticised for drawing up a "legally watertight" Rwanda plan for asylum seekers as an alternative to the Conservatives' proposal.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Labour's plan would see migrants having asylum claims processed overseas, with successful applicants then allowed to come to the UK, according to a report in the Times.

Sir Keir has previously dismissed the Conservatives' bid to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda as a "gimmick" and made clear his party's opposition to the concept.

Zoe Gardner, an independent immigration expert, said Labour's proposal was "disappointing".

She told LBC's Matthew Wright on Tuesday: "I think a lot of people will wake up and see this proposal from Labour and be hugely dispirited, because they're hoping to be able to vote for an alternative to the failed narratives of cruelty, hostility and rejection that have brought us to this chaos under the Tories.

Read more: Rwanda ‘laughing all the way to the bank’ as £290m cost of scheme could have paid for 400,000 asylum claims

Read more: Talks with airlines to take migrants to Rwanda have not started, James Cleverly admits

Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer. Picture: Getty

"And it looks like at this point Labour's thinking that they're going to offer us a bit more of the same, and that absolutely won't work.

"There's no evidence to support the kind of proposals they are making. And they're based fundamentally on flawed narratives about the fact that we should or could reject and get rid of and prevent asylum seekers who need protection and need solutions from making journeys in order to find that at will never happen.

She added: "What a competent and an honest Labour government would do is level with the public and say: 'There will always be a certain number of people who seek safety in the UK.

"We will make it work, we will make it safe. We will make sure that our communities are supported in order to receive people.

"That would be the honest thing to do. And this is really disappointing. It looks like Labour's going in the wrong direction this morning."

The Scottish National Party also criticised reports of the Labour policy.

SNP Home Affairs spokesperson Alison Thewliss MP said: "The SNP is clear offshoring our fellow human beings is inhumane and immoral. The Labour Party should be ruling out Rwanda-style plans, not helping to enable them."

She also claimed that Sir Keir was "dancing to the Tory tune".

Are Labour ready for government in 2024?

It comes as the government seeks to bring a revised Rwanda plan into law, having passed a vote earlier this month.

Sir Keir has previously suggested that he would not be opposed to processing asylum seeker claims overseas, although explicit support for an offshoring scheme would still mark a significant shift for Labour.

The Labour leader said: "Other countries around the world do have schemes where they divert people on the way and process them elsewhere. That's a different kind of scheme.

"And, look, I'll look at any scheme that might work," he told reporters after a speech in Buckinghamshire.

Labour has been contacted for comment about the report, which claims that the party has drawn up "three tests" for any such scheme - that it is cost-effective, credible enough to deter migrants, and would avoid the legal challenges that have delayed the Rwanda plan.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary James Cleverly are hoping fresh legislation, currently in the Commons, will be enough to revive the flagship policy after it was declared unlawful by the Supreme Court earlier this year.

Andrew Marr challenges Immigration Minister Tom Pursglove over the Rwanda plan

According to The Times a Labour "red line" would be any scheme that would automatically block migrants being granted asylum in the UK, with British officials also required to be in charge of processing claims.

This is not the first time the party has looked at such an approach.

In the early 2000s, Lord Blunkett and the Blair government were believed to be in talks with Tanzania about the possibility of housing asylum seekers in the country while claims were processed in the UK.

Lord Blunkett told the paper: "What's absolutely crucial is who is doing the processing and that they're allowed back into the country. Without it, you're merely transferring the problem on to somebody else. But if British officials are doing the processing, then you've got a scheme that fits with the conventions."

It comes as Sir Keir and his frontbench team enter a crucial period, with a general election likely to be less than 12 months away.

The Conservatives have sought to make tackling illegal migration a crunch issue, with stopping the boats one of Mr Sunak's "five priorities".