Starmer says UK should treat people smugglers like terrorists

People-smuggling should be treated “on a par” with terrorism, UK opposition leader Keir Starmer said, as he weighed into the sensitive debate on migration that is likely to be a major factor in the next general election, according to Bloomberg.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to stop asylum seekers arriving in small boats from France while trying to portray Starmer’s poll-leading Labour Party as soft on immigration. But the government is under pressure over the number of crossings — often run by criminal gangs — while costs to the taxpayer are soaring amid a backlog of asylum claims.

“The government’s failure to tackle the criminal smuggling gangs orchestrating boat crossings is now so profound that I believe it needs to be considered on a par with the other three big security threats we face: climate change, hostile foreign powers and terrorism,” Starmer said in a statement.

The Labour leader is vising The Hague in the Netherlands Thursday, Starmer is seeking a provisional agreement with the EU’s policing body, Europol, that would take effect if Labour wins power. It includes boosting access to shared intelligence on people trafficking, which has been complicated by Brexit.

Starmer is also seeking a formal returns agreement with the EU for migrants whose claims of asylum or other status are rejected in the UK courts. It’s an approach that sees migration as a shared regional issue. Starmer is due to meet French President Emmanuel Macron next week. 

But it also risks opening Labour up to attacks from Sunak’s Tories, who say Starmer’s plan would effectively allow the EU to dictate how many migrants the UK accepts in exchange for cooperation.

Starmer “wants to now give control of our immigration policy back to the EU, to say that they can decide what our quotas are,” Health Secretary Steve Barclay told Times Radio on Thursday.

Meanwhile the government’s preferred plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda has been beset by legal challenges. Labour has said that if it is elected, it will scrap the Rwanda plan and instead invest more in the National Crime Agency, which tackles people trafficking. 

Starmer rejected accusations that he is trying to reverse the UK’s decision to leave the EU. “There’s no case for going back to the EU, no case for going into the single market or customs union and no freedom of movement,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain from outside The Hague. “I do not accept that that prevents us working with other police units here, with prosecutors here, to smash the gangs in this vile trade.”