Keir Starmer moves Labour closer to EU integration with migrant smuggling gangs plan - however he backs Brexit

After the announcement, Sir Keir Starmer said: "There is no return to freedom of movement. We have left the EU. There’s no case for going back to the EU."

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Sir Keir Starmer has said closer cooperation with the European Union is needed to tackle the gangs smuggling migrants across the Channel on small boats.

The Labour leader indicated he could be prepared to do a deal with Brussels which would involve the UK taking a quota of asylum seekers who arrive in the bloc in exchange for the ability to return people who cross the English Channel.

This is the biggest step Starmer has made towards EU integration as Labour leader, despite him reiterating today that “there’s no case for going back to the EU”. This is despite Brexit regret being at an all time high, and a plurality of voters want a referendum to rejoin the bloc in the next 10 years.

Starmer made the announcement from The Hague, in the Netherlands, where he was holding talks with the EU’s Europol law enforcement agency. He said that his focus was on ensuring that an anti-terrorism style international crackdown could smash the gangs behind the “vile” trade, preventing people leaving in small boats from France in the first place.

While deepening intelligence ties with Europe as part of a new post-Brexit security pact and strengthening powers to restrict the movement of those suspected of organised immigration crime would form part of the Labour plan.

He told ITV: “There is no return to freedom of movement. We have left 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. I’ve been really clear that that’s the parameter. 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.”

As part of its plans, Labour says it would work to reach a new agreement to share real-time intelligence with the EU similar to the Schengen Information System II, a database of terror suspects and immigration offenders which the UK had automatic access to before Brexit.

The party has also vowed to strengthen powers to restrict the movement of people smugglers by making it quicker and easier to obtain civil orders, known as serious crime prevention orders, which are used to target offenders such as terrorists and drug traffickers.

More British officers would be stationed in Europe under the plans, with a “cross-border police force” focused solely on disrupting criminal gangs, Labour said.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper and Sir Keir Starmer at Europol. Credit: PAShadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper and Sir Keir Starmer at Europol. Credit: PA
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper and Sir Keir Starmer at Europol. Credit: PA

In an interview with The Times, Starmer said he would also seek an EU-wide returns agreement for asylum seekers who arrive in Britain, which may involve a “quid pro quo” of accepting quotas of migrants from the bloc.

“That would be part of any discussions and negotiations with Europe,” he told The Times.

He would not be drawn on the number of asylum seekers he would be happy to take in under a deal with the European Union.

But the Tories seized on the suggestion that he would be prepared to negotiate with Brussels on the possibility of accepting a migrant quota as part of an EU-wide returns deal for people crossing the Channel.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said Sir Keir would let the UK become a “dumping ground” for Europe’s migrants. She said: “He’ll let Brussels decide who comes to the UK.

“He’ll agree to make Britain the dumping ground for many of the millions of illegal migrants that Europe doesn’t want. And none of this will stop the boats.” But Starmer argued that under the Tories “we are not deciding, as a country, who is coming to the UK – the gangs are deciding”.

Government figures show a total of 175,457 people were waiting for an initial decision on an asylum application at the end of June, up 44% from 122,213 in June 2022. It’s the highest figure since current records began in 2010.

The number of asylum seekers waiting more than six months stood at 139,961 at the end of June, up 57% year on year from 89,231 and another record high. While Home Office spending on asylum has almost reached £4 billion, eight times the amount a decade ago.