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Abandoning Rwanda plan and lowering net migration expected to be among Labour’s immigration policies


A round-up of what Labour said about its asylum and immigration policies ahead of election victory

Date of Publication:

Today's change of government following Labour's landslide in the general election will lead to significant changes in immigration and asylum law and policy. Keir Starmer was sworn in as Prime Minister this morning and, as expected, has appointed Yvette Cooper to the role of Home Secretary.

Labour Party logoOne major and immediate change expected under the new government is the abandonment of the Conservative's policy of relocating asylum seekers to Rwanda as a measure to deter small boats crossing the Channel.

While the former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged that the first flight to Rwanda would leave later this month, the new Prime Minister Keir Starmer told Sky News in May: "There will be no flights scheduled or taking off after the general election if Labour wins that general election. No flights, no Rwanda scheme, it's a gimmick, it's very expensive, it won't work."

Yvette Cooper told the House of Commons in January that the Rwanda policy would not fix an asylum system that has been broken by the Conservatives. She said the policy was too small and too unworkable to act as a deterrent to stop the boats. Cooper confirmed to Sky News in April that Labour would not implement the Rwanda scheme.

"We're not going to do the Rwanda scheme because every time you do, you have to write more cheques … Our plan is not to do the Rwanda scheme, instead it is to put the money into investing in our border security and preventing boats arriving," Cooper said.

The Telegraph reported this evening that a Labour insider confirmed the Rwanda policy was now effectively "dead" and said: "If Rishi Sunak thought Rwanda would work, he wouldn't have called an election. It was a con. By calling an election, Sunak was acknowledging that fact."

The Independent has more here today on what will happen to the Rwanda plan following Labour's victory.

Labour has said its replacement for the Rwanda policy will be the setting up of a new Border Security Command to tackle the organised, criminal gangs behind the small boats. The new Border Security Command will have "hundreds of new investigators, intelligence officers, and cross-border police officers", according to Labour's election manifesto. Yvette Cooper said this evening that setting up the new Command was one of her first two priority tasks upon becoming Home Secretary.

Keir Starmer set out Labour's overall policy on asylum in a major speech in Dover on 10 May. You can read highlights of the speech here on EIN. Starmer said he was in favour of a rules-based asylum system that processes claims quickly and humanely, but which also detains and removes people who have no right to be in the UK.

Starmer continued: "[W]e have to restore integrity and rules to our asylum system. We have to clear the backlog so we can return people swiftly. That is the path, the only path, to real deterrence. That's why we will hire hundreds of new caseworkers for the Home Office, and we'll do it straight away. We will create a new fast-track returns and enforcement unit that will make sure the courts can process claims quickly and we will save the taxpayer billions."

On the same day that Starmer delivered his speech in Dover, the Labour Party website published an article summarising its approach on immigration in general.

The article says that Labour wants an immigration system that is "properly controlled and managed" and it wants to reduce net migration from the record levels seen under the Conservatives in the last few years.

Labour criticised the Conservatives for issuing too many visas and choosing higher migration instead of raising skills and working conditions in the UK.

"Labour's immigration policy will reduce the reliance on overseas workers, address home-grown skills shortages and ensure that hard work is rewarded with proper wages and conditions. Labour supports a points-based immigration system that works for workers and businesses", the article stated.

Under three brief points, the article summarised Labour's policies on work-related immigration as follows:

"1) Boost Britain's skills by joining-up Whitehall systems to spot and tackle skills shortages – so we can fire up skills training rather than look overseas to fill skills gaps, and end the days of sectors languishing on the shortage of skills list without a plan to deal with the problem.
"2) Reform the points-based immigration system, bringing down migration. We will instruct the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to partner with other government agencies to ensure joined-up action to deliver the skills needed for growth, including priority sectors for our industrial strategy. We will work to reduce the need for international recruitment, boost per-capita growth, and ensure quick responses to changes in the labour market.
"3) New powers to ban hiring from overseas for employers and recruitment agencies who break employment law. An end to workplace exploitation, where migration is used as a way to undercut the terms and conditions of workers here."

In June, the Guardian reported that a Labour government would launch an investigation into the exploitation of migrant workers in the social care sector.

Yvette Cooper said: "The government has turned a blind eye to widespread exploitation of migrant care workers, putting vulnerable people at risk and undermining our immigration system and standards. Stories of people being unfairly charged thousands of pounds by agencies and employers who are profiting from overseas recruitment are a total disgrace. There must be a full investigation into these reports to ensure standards are upheld, and exploitative employers are prosecuted."

The relatively short sections on immigration and asylum from Labour's election manifesto can be read here on EIN. With regard to business immigration, the manifesto emphasises that "[t]he days of a sector languishing endlessly on immigration shortage lists with no action to train up workers will come to an end" under a Labour government.