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Labour Party leader pledges to restore a rules-based asylum system and scrap the Rwanda policy


Keir Starmer sets out Labour's approach to asylum in major speech

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With opinion polls continuing to suggest that Labour are likely to form the next government, the Labour leader gave a significant speech in Dover on Friday with details of the party's approach to asylum and how it would seek to prevent asylum seekers crossing the Channel via boat.

Labour Party logoKeir Starmer said the Conservative's Rwanda policy would never be an effective deterrent to prevent small boat crossings and Labour would scrap it. Instead, Labour would set up a new Border Security Command that would focus on tackling and smashing the criminal smuggling gangs behind the boats.

The Labour leader noted that, despite the passing of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024, over 8,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats this year, making 2024 on track to surpass the record number of crossings in 2022.

In comments made to the media after the speech, Starmer added that the Rwanda policy would be scrapped immediately if Labour wins the election and there would be no flights to Rwanda under a Labour government.

"No flights, no Rwanda scheme, it's a gimmick, it's very expensive, it won't work," Starmer told Sky News.

With regard to the Labour's overall approach to the asylum system, Starmer said during Friday's speech that he believes in a "rules-based asylum system … that processes claims quickly and humanely", but that also detains and removes people who have no right to be in the UK. He said Labour would restore "integrity and rules" to the UK's "broken" asylum system.

The Labour-supporting LabourList website published a full transcript of Starmer's speech. We've excerpted some key highlights below.

In terms of Labour's overall approach to asylum, Starmer said:

"And we will also rebuild Britain's broken asylum system. As I said at the beginning – I believe in a rules-based asylum system. I believe that a system that processes claims quickly and humanely, and that finds ways, without squeamishness or cruelty, to detain and remove people who have no right to be here, is essential for security, fairness, and justice.

"It is a form of deterrence in itself. Until we are seen around the world as a country that has a firm grip of the process at our border. Until we are busting the Home Office backlog arriving at decisions quickly, without a fuss, so that we can return people who have no right to be here, then yes, Britain will be seen as a soft touch.

"It goes without saying, we do not have that effective deterrence at our borders at the moment. Our rules-based asylum system isn't working. Ask anyone in this part of the world, that much is obvious.

"So it's not hard to see why the Prime Minister might want a path to deterrence, without the hard graft – the boring graft perhaps – of fixing the wider system. But I'm afraid, like so much of what he says these days, it's magical thinking, a symbol of the unquenchable Tory desire for the shortcut. The easy-fix, the sticking plaster, gimmicks not serious government.

"Let me spell it out again. A scheme that will remove less than 1% of arrivals from small boat crossings a year cannot and never will be an effective deterrent. It's an insult to anyone's intelligence and the gangs that run this sick trade are not easily fooled.

"In fact, by allowing vast numbers of people into the country via this route, running up a perma-backlog of nearly 100,000 people, refusing to process the claims – so that even if they have absolutely no right to be here – they cannot be removed – billing the taxpayer for expensive hotel accommodation – because like Hotel California, there is no prospect of ever leaving. No prospect of a decision for or against – then let me be clear.

"The government has achieved the complete opposite of what they claim. A Travelodge amnesty handed out by the Tory Party, that is warmer and safer than spending winter under canvas near a beach in Northern France. If you don't think that's what the gangs are telling the people they exploit – you've never met one of these gangs.

"So, no – we 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. The £8m we spend every day on hotels, an £8m a day message that Tory chaos has a cost."


"People who believe, based on their principles, that people should be able to move across the globe, wherever, whenever, and however they want. No matter that this, in this age of insecurity especially, would lead to a chaos that, quite apart from other objections, does nothing to advance global justice.

"Meanwhile, on the other side of the debate, some people pretend they want to reform asylum. When what they really want, is for the British state to act with impunity, to tear-up rules on a whim. Because ultimately, they do not want us to take in any asylum seekers whatsoever. I do not think there are many Tories who truly believe that. But what I do think is that they are too weak to admit that plainly. Too weak to say that this is not and never should be a world we live in.

"Because Britain should show leadership on the global issues that drive insecurity and migration. Britain should step up to tackle climate change, famine and conflict. We do have a duty to work with other nations. And the state should not have untrammelled power against minorities or anyone. Our rules-based system should align with global rules that protect individual human rights. That is in our interest and the right thing do.

"And so, rebuilding our asylum system has become a test of political strength. A trial of leadership to resist the voices who fundamentally do not want to build a functioning asylum system. A question: can you prioritise, at all times, the politics of practical solutions and can you reject the politics of performative symbols, the gimmicks and gestures."

On Labour's plans to prevent small boat crossings, Keir Starmer stated:

"We will set up a new command with new powers, new resources, and a new way of doing things – Border Security Command.

"This is about leveraging the power and potential of dynamic government, based on a counter-terrorism approach which we know works. An end to the fragmentation between policing, the border force and our intelligence agencies, a collective raising of standards, so that border protection becomes an elite force, not a Cinderella service, an essential frontline defence that communities like this can depend upon.

"To do all that, Border Security Command will bring together hundreds of specialist investigators. The best of the best. From the National Crime Agency, the Border Force, Immigration Enforcement, the Crown Prosecution Service and yes – MI5, all working to a single mission, all freed from the cloying bureaucracy that so often prevents collaboration between different institutions."


"[W]e also need new and stronger powers to bring these vile criminals to justice.

"In some areas of criminal activity, counter-terrorism is the most obvious, we have made the decision that the crime justifies tougher measures.

"Make no mistake, we have reached that moment with illegal migration. These vile people smugglers are no better than terrorists. They are a threat to our national security and a threat to life, and it is time we treated them as such.

"That means new powers that, as with would-be terrorists, can be used pre-conviction with High Court approval, that can limit the ability of the gangs to conduct their vile business – before arrest.

"Powers that will allow us to shut off internet access, close their bank accounts, trace their movements – using information provided by the intelligence services. Or powers like stop and search at the border. Or raiding and seizing evidence – before an offence has taken place."

Starmer said more co-operation was needed on "illegal migration" with the UK's European partners and a new partnership was needed with Europol. He continued:

"We should be working with our European partners to seize those boats, seize material here in the UK to collect further evidence, turn over every stone, use every reasonable power – and that is my message to the smugglers. These shores will become hostile territory for you. We will find you, we will stop you, we will protect your victims, with the Border Security Command, we will secure Britain's borders."