WATCH: “Compassionate” solution to people smugglers needed, Wakeford says

Katie Neame

Christian Wakeford has called for a more “compassionate solution” to tackle people smuggling after being challenged about his support for the nationality and borders bill while he was a Tory MP.

Speaking on BBC Politics Live this afternoon, the Labour MP said the criminal gangs involved in people smuggling need to be “tackled” but added that the government’s plan to offshore asylum seekers in Rwanda “isn’t the right way to do it”.

Wakeford told viewers: “Deporting people to Rwanda – where there’s issues in terms of if you’re LGBT or from different minorities – this isn’t the be-all-and-end-all solution that everyone tries to make, especially when the likes of Denmark and Israel have tried it and it’s failed.”

Tory MP Scott Benton noted that Wakeford had voted for the government’s nationality and borders bill – which sets out the government’s plans for the UK’s asylum system – before his defection to Labour earlier this year.

Benton said: “You’ve spoken in parliament about people travelling through safe countries, quote unquote, you said: “They are very often travelling through safe countries. Essentially, they have a shopping trolley as to what they want to see which amounts to economic migration.” You rightly recognise the problem.”

Responding to Benton’s comments, Wakeford said: “I recognise the problem. I think this is a very different solution, and I think the solution itself is wrong.

“I don’t think it’s going to act as a deterrent. I don’t think this is the solution in trying to tackle these criminal gangs, and we do need to look at a more compassionate solution for it.”

The government announced last month that the first group of asylum seekers to be deported under the Rwanda scheme would be removed on June 14th.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union launched a legal challenge in April against the government’s deal with Rwanda. PCS is bringing the case jointly with charities Care4Calais and Detention Action, as well as four individual asylum seekers.

The High Court ruled on Friday that Tuesday’s flight can go ahead, and the decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal today. The number of asylum seekers initially scheduled to be on the flight was 37, but Care4Calais said the number has been reduced to eight as a result of legal challenges.

Wakeford, the MP for Bury South, defected to Labour in January. In a letter to Boris Johnson on the day of his defection, Wakeford wrote: “You and the Conservative Party as a whole have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves.”

Concerns were raised about Wakeford’s voting record following his decision to change parties. Young Labour tweeted that he “should not be admitted to the Labour Party” and highlighted the fact that he had voted in favour of the nationality and borders bill.

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