Labour to consider Rwanda migrants for asylum within weeks of taking power

Labour has pledged to scrap the Rwanda scheme from day one
Labour has pledged to scrap the Rwanda scheme from day one - Jamie Lorriman

Labour could start considering Rwanda migrants for asylum within weeks of taking power as it attempts to achieve its ambition of ending the use of hotels in a year.

The party is investigating using discretionary powers in Rishi Sunak’s own “stop the boats” laws to enable an incoming home secretary to switch up to 90,000 migrants earmarked for Rwanda flights into the asylum system.

It would avoid delays which could be caused by having to repeal the Illegal Migration Act before being able to process asylum claims. Labour has pledged to scrap the Rwanda scheme from day one and plans to fast-track those migrants whose claims are most likely to be rejected so they can be returned to their home countries.

The move could save £6 million a day, or £2 billion a year, which it costs to accommodate the 36,000 migrants still in hotels and could pave the way for the closure of asylum camps on two former RAF bases and the Bibby barge, which auditors found were costing taxpayers more per migrant than hotels.

It could also help Yvette Cooper, as an incoming home secretary, achieve one of the pledges where the party has set a timescale – to shut down all asylum hotels within a year of starting to process the claims.

Ms Cooper signalled Labour’s desire to accelerate the plans two weeks ago when she said the party’s “initial assessment” was that it could end hotel use in a year. “We are very clear, we need to start saving money straight away. It is costing the taxpayer billions and billions of pounds for this failing system,” she said.

The plans will spark accusations from the Tories that Labour is effectively introducing an amnesty for the 90,000 migrants and neutering the deterrent to Channel crossings provided by the Rwanda scheme.

But a Labour spokesman said the Government had created its own amnesty because the 90,000 migrants could neither be returned to safe countries such as Vietnam, Bangladesh or India nor processed through the asylum system and so faced being permanently housed in the UK at the taxpayers’ expense.

“Labour will clear the Tories’ chaotic backlog, saving the taxpayers over £2 billion a year and set up a new Returns and Enforcement Unit with 1,000 staff to make sure those with no right to be here are swiftly returned,” said the spokesman.

The 90,000 migrants who entered the UK illegally have been left “in limbo” since arriving in the UK in the past 15 months because they are barred under the Illegal Migration Act from claiming asylum but have not yet been removed to Rwanda.

Mr Sunak has yet to implement the Illegal Migration Act, which would formally declare their asylum claims inadmissible and enact powers for the Home Secretary to deport them to a safe third country such as Rwanda or their own nation.

Section 30 of the Act, however, also gives the Home Secretary the discretion to override deportation and grant migrants “limited leave to enter or limited leave to remain in the UK” and/or disregard the powers on the basis that their removal could breach international law such as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

It is understood Labour officials have been scrutinising the Illegal Migration Act and are said to be “broadly of the view” that they could use section 30 to start processing asylum claims without having to pass new legislation.

Two senior legal experts contacted by The Telegraph confirmed that interpretation of the law although Labour sources said they could not at this point be definitive on the exact mechanism.

Labour will also benefit from the Sunak Government’s doubling in the number of asylum caseworkers – now numbering some 2,500 – who could be quickly set to work processing the backlog of claims.

Labour plans to prioritise migrants from countries with the least chance of being granted asylum to prevent them “putting down roots” in the UK and to pave the way for deportation to their home countries.

It had planned to recruit an extra 1,000 extra caseworkers but pressure to do so has been eased by the Tories’ recruitment campaign. These resources could now be switched to recruiting the extra 1,000 staff needed for the party’s proposed new enforcement and return unit.

The new unit will track down failed asylum seekers and foreign criminals and speed up their removal from the UK by negotiating new returns deals.

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “Without a plan to stop the boats, Labour’s pledges are completely worthless.

“For as long as Labour remain committed to scrapping our deterrence – even when it works – they will have a never-ending spiral of claims, at the expense of the taxpayer, because they will make the UK a magnet for every illegal migrant in Europe.

“Only Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives will take the bold action needed to stop the boats and control migration.”