Labour considers processing asylum seekers overseas

Keir Starmer

By Fiona Nimoni, Iain Watson

BBC News

The Labour party is considering processing some asylum claims overseas if it forms the next government.

Sir Keir Starmer has been looking over new plans for Labour’s asylum policy, a spokesman told the BBC.

Asked last week if his party would consider processing asylum claims outside of the UK, Sir Keir said he would look at any plan that works.

The Conservatives accused Labour of having no credible plan to stop migrants coming to the UK in boats.

The Labour party is exploring whether some asylum seekers could have their claims processed before reaching the UK, to discourage some of them from making the journey across the Channel.

Multiple senior sources have told the BBC that shadow ministers and officials have been discussing this as part of a mix of measures to tackle crossings. However, no detailed plans have yet been drawn up.

The sources denied reports in The Times on Tuesday that detailed plans had been drawn up.

Labour has ruled out any option that could see asylum seekers deported to other countries while their claims are being assessed – the cornerstone of Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda scheme.

Speaking to the BBC earlier this month Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said she opposed the Rwanda scheme because it came with a “huge cost” and would only see a small number of people sent to Rwanda.

Under a five-year trial first announced by the government in April 2022, some asylum seekers arriving in the UK could be sent to Rwanda for processing.

On arrival, they could be granted refugee status and allowed to stay. If not, they could apply to settle there on other grounds, or seek asylum in another “safe third country”.

The government has been unable to send a single asylum seeker to Rwanda because of various legal challenges.

The Supreme Court ruled the policy was unlawful in November and new emergency legislation was drawn up to revive the government’s plan.

Many Tory MPs had originally threatened to vote down the bill and some on the right of the party rebelled by abstaining – including Robert Jenrick, who resigned as immigration minister over the legislation.

While the bill passed its first vote in Parliament on 12 December, there will be further votes in the House of Commons in the new year which could pose a challenge for Rishi Sunak.

A Labour Party spokesman told the BBC that “as Keir said before, we’ll look at anything that works but our priority is smashing the gangs and stopping people getting here in the first place, rather than working out how to process claims”.

The government’s Minister for Countering Illegal Immigration Michael Tomlinson said Labour’s plans were not “a deterrent to stop the boats, it just throws open the front door to Britain, increasing immigration.

“The National Crime Agency says that only a deterrent will stop the boats. Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda plan is a deterrent,” he said.

A spokesman for Momentum, on the left wing of the Labour party, said that an expansion of safe routes for refugees was “a practical alternative to the Tories’ cruel and divisive war on migrants”.

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