Labour's Keir Starmer stresses 'acute security concern' for UK borders at Canadian summit

Labour Party chief is expected to declare people smuggling as one of the four major threats to western countries

Migrants arrive in Dover, Kent, after being picked up at sea by British rescuers. PA
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Protecting the UK’s borders is an “acute security concern”, the leader of Britain's main opposition Labour Party said as he touched down in Canada for a summit of political leaders.

Sir Keir Starmer is poised to declare people smuggling, terrorism, climate change and weakening democracy the four major threats to western nations, during an appearance at the Global Progress Action Summit in Montreal.

The opposition leader is expected to warn that the joint challenges make up an “axis of instability” at the event, where he is joined by David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary.

Mr Starmer’s trip is the latest among a flurry of international engagements perceived as a bid to appear statesmanlike as he vies for No 10 Downing Street.

Labour is enjoying a 20-point lead in opinion polls and Mr Starmer is increasingly being seen as a prime minister-in-waiting.

The next general election is widely expected to take place next year.

Labour officials are emphasising Mr Starmer’s background as a director of public prosecutions in making the case that he could manage organised immigration crime if he enters No 10.

Speaking to journalists in Montreal, the Labour leader stressed border security would be at the top of his agenda during the visit.

“I’ll be talking to political leaders from across the world about shared challenges and concerns, in particular security,” he said.

“And one of the most acute security concerns in the UK right now is border security, because the government has lost control of the borders.

“That basic rule that it ought to be the UK government who decides who come to our shores has been conceded by the government to criminal gangs, who are putting people in boats to go across the Channel.

“So that is the particular challenge that we face and that is why I’m setting out how we will work with international partners to smash these gangs, restore order to our borders and take a pragmatic approach – get rid of the gimmicks and the rhetoric and actually come up with a solution.”

Mr Starmer’s indication that a Labour government would seek an EU-wide returns agreement, which would involve taking a quota of migrants from the bloc, has sparked a political row.

The ruling Conservatives have seized on the suggestion of closer ties to Brussels, claiming any such arrangement could lead to 100,000 EU migrants coming to the UK every year.

Earlier this week the Labour leader visited The Hague with Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, to discuss how a future Labour administration would tackle human trafficking gangs.

He lambasted the Tory government's "failure to tackle the criminal smuggling gangs orchestrating boat crossings" and said it is "so profound" it should be treated with the same urgency as terrorism.

Mr Starmer said he would discuss climate and economic security at the Montreal summit where he is expected to set out his foreign policy stance.

Others in attendance include Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Norway’s Prime Minister Gahr Store and Jacinda Ardern, former prime minister of New Zealand.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper arriving at Europol in The Hague, Netherlands, to discuss how Labour would tackle Channel crossings. PA

Mr Starmer is expected to visit Paris next week where he will meet French President Emmanuel Macron.

Rishi Sunak’s office appeared to downplay the significance of the Labour leader’s trip, saying it was “not unusual”.

The Left-wing politician could also have his sights on a White House meeting with US President Joe Biden in the months ahead.

The Democrat leader’s “Bidenomics” and landmark green subsidy push has attracted admiration from Labour lawmakers.

Updated: September 16, 2023, 2:08 PM