Starmer to unveil plans to tackle small boats

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By Becky Morton
Political reporter

Sir Keir Starmer will promise to make Britain’s shores “hostile territory for people-smuggling gangs,” as he sets out details of Labour’s plans to tackle small boat crossings.

The Labour leader will promise to set up a new Border Security Command to crack down on people-smugglers if his party wins power.

The new unit would be funded by diverting £75m from the Rwanda scheme.

The plans will be unveiled by Sir Keir in a speech in Dover on Friday.

It comes after Dover MP Natalie Elphicke defected from the Conservatives to Labour, saying the prime minister had failed to tackle small boat crossings.

Her constituency is the arrival point for many people who make the dangerous journey across the English Channel.

The government says its plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda would deter people from making the crossing.

No deportation flights have taken off yet as the scheme has been delayed by legal challenges but the government is now hoping for the first flights to be in July.

However, in his speech Sir Keir will argue the Rwanda plan cannot be an effective deterrent as only a small proportion of people who arrive on small boats will be sent there.

The Labour leader will accuse the Conservatives of “a Travelodge Amnesty” by not processing asylum claims and housing people in hotels instead.

He is expected to say his party would “replace gimmicks with graft”.

Labour has already promised to scrap the Rwanda scheme if it wins the next election and confirmed it would consider asylum claims from people who have arrived in the UK on small boats.

The party said £75m of the money allocated for the first year of the scheme would fund its plans.

It is also pledging to hire hundreds more specialist investigators and cross-border police.

Meanwhile, counter-terror powers would be extended to cover organised immigration crime, including the power to search people suspected of being involved in people smuggling, close bank accounts, restrict their travel and trace their movements before an offence has taken place.

The new Border Security Command would be modelled on the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism set up by the last Labour government and would bring together the National Crime Agency, Immigration Enforcement, the CPS and MI5.

It would be led by a former police, military or intelligence chief who would report directly to the home secretary.

But the Conservatives claimed Labour’s big idea was what they described as an “amnesty for illegal immigrants”.

Home Secretary James Cleverly accused Sir Keir of not wanting to control Britain’s borders and of wanting to scrap the government’s Rwanda plan “even if it’s working”.

More than 6,200 people have crossed the English Channel in small boats so far this year, with the figure up by nearly a quarter compared to the same period the year before.

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