Labour attacks government small boats record as new proposals released

Morgan Jones
Hastings, East Sussex, RNLI lifeboat. © Dave Smith 1965/
Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.
The government has announced plans to introduce new legislation to tackle small boats crossing the channel. The plans as reported are draconian, and would see people arriving to the UK in small boats swiftly removed and be subsequently unable to return. They would also include a ban on seeking British citizenship in the future. Labour has responded by accusing the government of having failed to get a handle on small boat crossings. They have asserted that the proposals are simply a rehash of commitments made last year. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Ministers have made countless claims and promises yet the facts show their last law badly failed and made things worse. Instead of learning lessons, it looks like they are still recycling the same rhetoric and failure.”

In response to the government’s announcement, Labour have released a document that contrasts the government’s pledges for the nationality and borders bill with those it is now making for the new proposals, highlighting their similarity and the worsening of the situation in the channel in the interim. These include the government’s claim that the borders bill would work to “break the business model of the gangs”, contrasted with Rishi Sunak’s assertion this weekend that “criminal gangs should not be allowed to continue their immoral trade”. Labour’s dossier highlights that in the year between these statements, gangs have made record profits of around £183m from the cross channel trade. This figure constitutes a hundred-fold increase over the last four years.

Labour has concentrated on the inefficiency of the plans and attacked the government for the situation worsening on their watch. It has stayed away, however, from the kind of moral outrage that animates the response of many charities and migrants’ organisations to the new proposals. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) called the government’s plans “abominable”, and the chief executive of the Refugee Council, Enver Solomon, said that the “plans shatter the UK’s longstanding commitment under the UN convention to give people a fair hearing regardless of the path they have taken to reach our shores. They will simply add more cost and chaos to the system”.

Speaking on the BBC this morning, Wes Streeting said that the proposals were “the latest in a long line of unworkable gimmicks”, and highlighted one of Labour’s own plans around small boats. The Shadow Health Secretary said Labour in government would take “the hundreds of millions of pounds that would be wasted on the Rwanda scheme, put it into the National Crime Agency so that we can start rounding up and arresting the criminal gangs that are trafficking people.” Labour’s commitments to speed up asylum decisions and tackle human trafficking gangs are solid fare, but small boats remains an issue where the party is happier highlighting Tory failure than setting the agenda in a debate made toxic by successive ideologically committed Home Secretaries and a Prime Minister scrambling for a winning issue.

Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

More from LabourList


We provide our content free, but providing daily Labour news, comment and analysis costs money. Small monthly donations from readers like you keep us going. To those already donating: thank you.

If you can afford it, can you join our supporters giving £10 a month?

And if you’re not already reading the best daily round-up of Labour news, analysis and comment…