UK's Keir Starmer says Illegal Migration Bill won't stop boats

The Labour leader says he fears the government isn't tackling the situation but is trying to create political divides

Migrants are helped ashore from a lifeboat at a beach in Dungeness, south-east England, after being rescued while crossing the English Channel. AFP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

The leader of the UK's Labour Party, Keir Starmer, has criticised the government's new Illegal Migration Bill, saying it will not stop small boats crossing the English Channel.

The bill, which was introduced by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, has its second reading in the House of Commons on Monday.

Mr Starmer said that the way to stop the boats is to tackle the criminal gangs who are driving the trade, which requires the establishment of a cross-border police unit.

He said there was also a need for a migrant returns agreement, which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak failed to secure during his recent trip to France.

“We have got to speed up the asylum processing," Mr Starmer said.

“My fear here is the government isn't actually tacking the situation, it is just trying to create political divides. That is no way to govern.”

Conservative MP Chris Skidmore has also spoken out against the bill, saying that he will not vote for it in the Commons.

The backbencher said he had concerns about breaking international law and human rights conventions, which the UK has a proud history of establishing.

Ms Braverman said that people crossing the Channel on small boats had “overwhelmed our asylum system”.

She said that stopping the boats was the government's top priority, and that the bill was supported by most British people.

“The British public know that border security is national security; that illegal migration makes us all less safe," Ms Braverman told the Commons.

“They know that the financial and social costs of uncontrolled and illegal migration are unsustainable.

"They know if our borders are to mean anything we must control who comes into this country and the terms under which they remain here."

She said the current system was unfair to vulnerable people and those who played by the rules.

During the debate, Conservative MP Mark Jenkinson accused Labour MPs of being “pro-open borders and unlimited immigration”, and of putting themselves “on the side of the criminals rather than the side of the public”.

Ms Braverman accused opposition MPs of being “naive do-gooders” who would rather prevent the removal of foreign national offenders than vote in favour of the government's measures.

Despite opposition from some MPs, the Illegal Migration Bill is expected to pass its second reading.

If it becomes law, the bill will give Border Force officials greater powers to intercept and return small boats crossing the Channel, and would make it easier to prosecute people smugglers.

Updated: March 13, 2023, 8:30 PM