Focus needs to be on deterring the people smugglers - Ian Murray

‘Stop the boats’ is an empty election slogan, says Ian Murray‘Stop the boats’ is an empty election slogan, says Ian Murray
‘Stop the boats’ is an empty election slogan, says Ian Murray
There was some breathless coverage of this week’s Rwanda debate, which sadly too often focused on the political ping-pong rather than the reality of this Tory election stunt. As we saw during the exhausting Brexit debates, parliamentary drama can distract from actual issues.

The takeaway from what happened this week must not be the to-ing and fro-ing between the Commons and the Lords, but the reality of this Conservative gimmick. “Stop the boats” is an empty election slogan, not a plan to tackle the criminal smuggler gangs which are putting so many lives at risk.

The Rwanda scheme will cost more than half a billion pounds of your money, for just 300 people or 1 per cent of all arrivals. Hardly a deterrent! And it will do nothing to address the tragic human cost of the dangerous Channel crossings.

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As the BBC’s extraordinary footage on Tuesday showed, for those seeking to enter the UK, the Rwanda plan is not a deterrent. The focus needs to be on deterring the people smugglers, not the destitute who are being cruelly exploited. Labour has a clear plan to reform the asylum system.

We need stronger powers for the UK’s National Crime Agency to restrict the movement of those suspected of being involved in people smuggling, with a new cross-border police unit to tackle gangs. As part of the reset of the relationship with Europe, following the disaster of the Tory Brexit deal, we would seek a new security agreement with our neighbours. Labour would also end hotel use and clear the inhumane Tory asylum backlog by recruiting 1,000 Home Office caseworkers.

A reason that many refugees come to the UK is because of family connections here, and we must have a clearer process for safe resettlement routes to prevent people being exploited by gangs or making the dangerous Channel crossing. And we must never lose sight of the humanitarian crises that force so many people to flee their homes in hope of a better, safer life. Labour would work in partnership across the globe to address some of these crises, including restoring the 0.7 per cent international aid commitment when the fiscal situation allows and strengthening support for the people of Afghanistan, currently the largest group trying to cross the Channel.

This approach is in stark contrast to the Tories’ indifference to the plight of vulnerable families. They see them as electoral maths. All that Sunak wants is to send a few symbolic flights to Rwanda before the general election – he doesn’t care about stopping the criminal gangs. Government sources even admitted to a national newspaper that these token flights could include non-asylum seekers because “the optics of a flight in the air would be the same, irrespective of who is on it”.

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This scheme is now so shambolic that the Tories are going to pay anyone to go to Kigali just so they can fill a plane. This week’s parliamentary debates rightly exposed the failings and illegality in the Rwanda plan – points raised by cross-party members. And it’s easy to just oppose this Conservative government – what we need to do is replace this government with a Labour one and deliver a credible humane and compassionate plan to reform the asylum system that tackles the criminals and addresses the humanitarian crisis.

Ian Murray MP is Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland