LONDON: The UK’s leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, is to travel to France and Albania in a bid to show the country he would “clean up the utter mess” of illegal migration created by the British government.
He is set to visit both countries to discuss ways of addressing the issue of small boats crossing the English Channel, and will likely hold face-to-face talks with French authorities and Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama in the coming weeks.
Rama recently traveled to the UK where he met Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to discuss Albanian migration, which makes up a significant proportion of people crossing illegally into Britain.
Sunak’s government has pledged a tough response to the crossings, which reached a record number — in excess of 45,000 people — in 2022.
It recently introduced an Illegal Migration Bill to Parliament, and has sought to make it easier to detain and deport migrants who cross the Channel.
Among the suggestions for dealing with migrants have been deporting people to Rwanda while their asylum applications are processed, and housing them in vast barges off the coast of Britain.
Starmer has branded the government’s response to illegal migration as a failure that “gets worse with every new gimmick,” telling the House of Commons last month that he would “stop the boats, smash the gangs, sort out the returns and clean up the utter mess.”
An ally of his told The Times that the trips to France and Albania are “about showing that when Keir says he would strike a better deal than the Tories in government, he absolutely means it.
“We need to demonstrate that we are as keen as the government to stop the boats — the difference is competence.”
The issue of deportations to Rwanda has proved controversial in the UK, with Home Secretary Suella Braverman drawing criticism after visiting the East African country last month.
The policy has drawn more scrutiny in recent weeks after it emerged that a former Afghan Air Force pilot who had fought alongside British and coalition troops before fleeing to the UK had been threatened with deportation to Rwanda by the Home Office.
His application to remain in the UK was later approved after Sunak personally pledged to intervene on his behalf.
Lisa Nandy, the shadow leveling up secretary, told the BBC that she thought the Rwanda scheme would not happen.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to be in the situation where we have to dismantle this (plan) because I don’t think it’s real, just like the barges that the home secretary promised this week that it turns out didn’t exist,” she said.
“This is just yet another way of distracting from the fact that they (the Home Office) are only processing 1 percent of the asylum claims of people who arrived last year.
“The reason that our hotels are full is because they haven’t got a grip on the asylum system, they aren’t processing claims and they haven’t got a returns agreement with France.”