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8 October 2023

Keir Starmer pledges to reverse Rwanda scheme even if declared legal

The Labour leader’s announcement opens up a clear dividing line with the Conservatives on immigration.

By Rachel Wearmouth

Labour would reverse the Conservative government’s Rwanda deportation scheme, even if the Supreme Court declares the policy legal and small boat crossings decline, Keir Starmer has said.

Speaking to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg show this morning (8 October) as the Labour conference began in Liverpool, the opposition leader said his party would not continue with the “wrong policy” of sending asylum seekers to central Africa.

Starmer’s announcement opens up a clear dividing line between the Conservatives and Labour on immigration policy. As my colleague Andrew Marr recently reported: “Ministers are growing increasingly confident that their appeal to the Supreme Court over the Rwanda deportation policy, expected in November, will go the government’s way.”

Explaining his opposition to the scheme, Starmer said: “It’s hugely expensive. It’s a tiny number, a tiny number of individuals who go to Rwanda. And the real problem is at source.”

Pressed further on the policy, championed by Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, who has said it is her “dream” to see planes filled with asylum seekers leave the UK for Rwanda, Starmer said: “You’re putting this to me on the basis it’s working. We’ve been told by the government time and again that what they’re saying, even seeing, that they have got a Rwanda scheme that will reduce numbers. That hasn’t happened.”

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Starmer said the government’s rhetoric was getting the Home Office “absolutely nowhere” and that he was “convinced” the UK, led by Labour, could work with France and other EU countries to disrupt people-trafficking gangs. During a visit to the Hague this summer, the Labour leader suggested that terror laws could be adapted to challenge people smugglers.

“Nobody wants to see these crossings across the Channel,” Starmer said. “They will only stop if we smash the criminal gangs who are running this vile trade.”

[See also: The new politics of migration]

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