Rwanda policy will be scrapped 'straight away', Starmer says as Labour leader bats away Natalie Elphicke backlash

10 May 2024, 12:14 | Updated: 10 May 2024, 12:18

Rwanda policy will be scrapped 'straight away', Starmer (pictured left_ says as Labour leader bats away Natalie Elphicke (bottom right) backlash
Rwanda policy will be scrapped 'straight away', Starmer (pictured left_ says as Labour leader bats away Natalie Elphicke (bottom right) backlash. Picture: Alamy

By Christian Oliver

Sir Keir Starmer says his Labour government would scrap the Conservative's Rwanda immigration policy 'straight away' and replace it with a border security command to tackle the small boats crisis.

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The Labour leader wants to end the Rwanda policy permanently to establish the border security command, described as an "elite force, not a Cinderella service".

"We will restore serious government to our borders, tackle this problem at source and replace the Rwanda policy permanently," he said at a speech in Dover this morning.

Asked by LBC's Political Editor Natasha Clark about his timetable to scrap the Conservative's Rwanda plan, and if it would occur within the first hundred days of a Labour government, Sir Keir said he would "get rid of the policy straight away".

"I'm not going to continue a policy I don't think is going to work, which is going to cost a fortune," the Labour leader said.

"I would rather use the money that's being thrown at the Rwanda scheme and put it behind the command that we want to set up.

New Labour MP Natalie Elphicke with Sir Keir Starmer, Yvette Cooper and Mike Tapp, the Labour candidate for Dover and Deal
New Labour MP Natalie Elphicke with Sir Keir Starmer, Yvette Cooper and Mike Tapp, the Labour candidate for Dover and Deal. Picture: Alamy

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He continued: "The command can be set up very, very quickly as well. It doesn't require primary legislation. Some of the powers I have outlined are already in primary legislation - others will require some legislation which I think we can pass very quickly. So I see this as a very fast timetable to get this off the ground."

The "elite Border Security Command" will be led by a former police, military or intelligence chief and recruit hundreds of new specialist investigators. It will have powers to carry out border control stop-and-searches, along with new financial investigation powers to search and seize warrants targeting organised immigration crime.

Sir Keir said he does not doubt that the Conservative Government will get flights running to Rwanda but said the flagship deportation policy would not work as he insisted "our asylum system must be rebuilt".

He accused the government's scheme of being an "absolute waste of money" and "a gimmick, not a solution".

The Labour leader also addressed anger over his decision to welcome Natalie Elphicke, a right-wing former Conservative MP, into his party.

Ms Elphicke previously attacked Labour over its immigration policy before her stark U-turn when she crossed the floor of the Commons on Wednesday to inflict another blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his party.

Starmer welcomed Ms Elphicke to the Labour Party during Prime Minister's Questions, using her defection to attack Conservatives for “failing to keep our borders safe and secure”.

The ex-Tory said under Mr Sunak's leadership the Conservatives had become “a byword for incompetence and division” and had abandoned the centre ground.

"This is a very important and significant crossing of the floor for the reasons that Natalie has set out. I think anybody reading the words she said this morning would be persuaded that 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. It's a Conservative Party that is on its last legs. It's out of road, out of ideas, and that is why I genuinely think the mood of the country - and Natalie has picked up on this - if for change and a general election.

Sir Keir said the prime minister was "clinging on by his fingernails to power for as long as he possibly can".

He then called on Mr Sunak to "do the decent thing, read the room, and call a general election."

Jeremy Hunt: 'It's an absolute joke, Keir Starmer saying that'

It comes after some 211 people were detected crossing the English Channel on Thursday, according to provisional figures from the Home Office.

The cumulative number of arrivals by small boats in 2024 now stands at a provisional total of 9,037.

This is 35 per cent higher than the total at this point last year, which was 6,691, and 16 per cent higher than the total at this stage in 2022, which was 7,801.

Three boats were detected on Thursday, which suggests an average of around 70 people per boat.

There were 29,437 arrivals across the whole of 2023, down 36 per cent on a record 45,774 arrivals in 2022.

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