London politics LIVE: Rishi Sunak accused by Keir Starmer at PMQs of being ‘absolutely deluded’ over Illegal Migration Bill
Sir Keir Starmer accused Rishi Sunak of being “absolutely deluded” on his small boats policy as they clashed during Prime Minister’s Questions.
The Labour leader claimed the Government’s latest asylum proposals represent “more talk, more gimmicks, more promises to be broken.”
But the Prime Minister defended the plans saying “Stopping the boats is not just my priority, it’s the people’s priority.”
He accused the Labour leader of being “just another lefty lawyer standing in our way” against efforts to tackle the problem.
The controversial new proposals to crack down on Channel crossings, unveiled by Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Tuesday, would remove and ban asylum seekers from re-entry if they arrive in the UK through unauthorised means.
The Illegal Migration Bill sparked a furore from inside and outside the Commons with critics saying it is “unworkable” and will leave thousands of migrants in limbo by banning them from ever claiming British citizenship.
The United Nations’ refugee agency urged MPs and peers to block the “profoundly” concerning plan, while human rights organisation Amnesty International UK said it contained nothing “fair, humane or even practical” and described it as a “shocking new low”.
Mr Sunak defended the proposed legislation at a press conference in Dover on Tuesday, vowing migrants arriving in the UK illegally would be removed “within weeks”.
The Government is likely to face legal challenges over the bill, amid allegations it does not comply with the UK’s commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
PMQs to begin at midday
11:39 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Hello, and welcome to the Evening Standard’s live blog.
We’ll be bringing you everything you need to know as Rishi Sunak faces MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions, amid a growing furore over the Government’s plan to tackle the small boats crisis.
Follow along throughout the afternoon for all the latest updates.
What is the Illegal Migration Bill, and why is it controversial?
11:48 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Announced in the House of Commons by Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Tuesday, the Illegal Immigration Bill aims to crack down on people crossing the English Channel to the UK in small boats.
Under the controversial new plan, those entering the UK illegally would be detained within the first 28 days without bail or judicial review until they are removed.
The UK would accept only a set number of refugees determined by Parliament, who will be able to use new “safe and legal routes” introduced by the Government.
Under the new rules - branded “immoral and unworkable” by critics - Channel migrants will be expelled from the UK, barred from further re-entry, and unable to petition for British citizenship.
Listen as the Evening Standard’s Political Editor, Nicholas Cecil, explains the bill and looks at the potential political ramifications on our podcast The Leader.
You can also read our full breakdown of the bill here.
Prime Minister’s Question Time has begun
12:05 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
PMQs is now underway in the House of Commons.
It opened with Mr Sunak marking International Women’s Day, saying: “At home we’re taking huge strides to deliver equal opportunities for women such as mandatory pay gap reporting and a landmark domestic abuse act.
“And internationally we have today launched a new women and girls strategy which puts them at the heart of everything that we do.”
Rishi Sunak says he will publish his tax returns ‘very shortly’
12:08 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Labour MP for Leeds East, Richard Burgon, kicked off by urging the Prime Minister to publish his tax returns, as he has previously promised to do.
He asked: “People want transparency in our politics...So why on earth hasn’t the Prime Minister published his tax returns?”
Mr Sunak responded by saying: “As I previously confirmed, I will publish my tax returns, and that will be done very shortly.”
Labour leader grills Prime Minister on plans to tackle illegal immigration
12:14 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has quizzed the Prime Minister on plans to tackle illegal immigration.
“In the last decade, this government has introduced five plans to tackle illegal immigration - five utter failures,” said Sir Keir as he addresssed the Prime Minister at PMQs.
“The problem just gets worse with every new gimmick. The Home Secretary says the public are sick of tough talk and inadequate action. Does [the Prime Minister] agree with her assessment of this Government’s record?”
‘We will ensure this remains a compassionate and generous country’, says PM
12:16 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Ms Sunak responded to the Labour leader’s questioning by saying Sir Keir “fails to recognise that there is a global migration problem”.
”We are not alone in facing these challenges, and it is precisely because across Europe the numbers are escalating as they are, that we have brought forward new plans,” said the Prime Minister.
“We are determined to ensure that this remains a compassionate and generous country, that this is done fairly and legally,” he added. “That’s why we will break the criminal gangs.
“We’ve announced new agreements with Albania and France, tougher immigration enforecement, and now new legislation that makes it clear that if you come here illegally you will be detained and swiftly removed.”
He went on to accuse Labour of having a policy of “open-door immigration adnd unlimited asylum”.
Sunak brands Starmer ‘another leftie lawyer standing in our way’ as they clash in the Commons
12:34 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
The Prime Minister branded the Labour leader “just another leftie lawyer standing in our way”.
His comment came as Sir Keir has pressed Mr Sunak on numbers, asking how many illegal immigrants have been deported from the UK in the last year.
“Mr Speaker, when I was in charge of prosecutions...the conviction rate for people smuggling was twice what it is today,” he said.
Mr Sunak defended the Government’s progress on the matter, saying: “As a result of the plans we’ve brought forward we have almost doubled the number of people returned this year … precisely because of the law that the Conservative government passed last year they have now been able to arrest more than double the number of people they did before, 397 in the last six months.”
Sir Keir went on to accuse the Prime Minister of avoiding answering his question.
“He knows what the number is. It’s 21,” he claimed. “Twenty-one people out of the 18,000. And what about the rest? They sit in hotels and digs for months on end at the taxpayer’s expense.
“Last year he promised to end the hotel farce. But becasue of his mess, there are thousands of people that can’t claim asylum and cna’t be rturned. So where does he think they’re going to end up?”
Labour leader describes PM as ‘absolutely deluded'
12:39 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Sir Keir has accused the Prime Minsiter of being “absolutely deluded” on his small boats policy.
“He stood there last year saying exactly the same thing,” he said. “We said it wouldn’t work, they passed the law, the numbers went up. Absolutely deluded.
“He can’t say where they’ll return people, they can’t say how they’ll return people, and they can’t say when they’ll fix the mess.”
Rishi Sunak says ‘hundreds’ being returned to Albania
12:41 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
The Prime Minister refuted Sir Keir Starmer’s claim the Government has failed to secure agreements with other countries, that would see illegal immigrants returned.
“We do have returns agreements - with India, with Pakistan, with Serbia, with Nigeria, and crucially now with Albania where we are returning hundreds of people,” said Mr Sunak.
“Our position on this is clear: if you arrive here illegally, you will not be able to claim asylum here, you will not be able to access the modern slavery system, and you will not be able to make spurious human rights claims.”
PM quizzed on what new bill will mean for sex trafficking victims
12:45 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
The SNP Westminster leader asked the Prime Minister whether the Illegal Migration Bill means women who are sex-trafficked to the UK on a small boat will not get modern slavery protections.
Stephen Flynn told the Commons: “On International Women’s Day, can I ask the Prime Minister to reconfirm that under his proposed new asylum laws women who are sex-trafficked to the UK on a small boat by a criminal gang will not be afforded protection under our modern slavery laws?”
Rishi Sunak replied: “It’s precisely because we want to target our resources and our compassion on the world’s most vulnerable people that we need to get a grip of this system, make sure that we have control over our borders, make sure our system and resources are not overwhelmed, so that we can help the people most in need.
“There is nothing fair, there is nothing compassionate, about sustaining a system where, as we saw recently, people are dying on these crossings. That is not right. And our plans will stop that from happening.”
‘Sex trafficking victims will not be protected’ says MP, branding government’s plan ‘utter disgrace'
12:47 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Stephen Flynn asked Rishi Sunak whether his Government is taking inspiration from “Nigel Farage or Enoch Powell?”.
The SNP Westminster leader told MPs: “I’ll take that as a yes from the Prime Minister that women who are the victims of sex trafficking will not be protected under our modern slavery laws. What a complete and utter disgrace.
“But whilst it may shock, it shouldn’t necessarily surprise because this is the Tory government that in recent months has spoken of invasions.
“Just yesterday, this was a Tory government that said that 100 million people could be coming to these shores and this is the Tory government that this morning said that number could in fact be billions. Complete and utter nonsense.
“So, may I ask the Prime Minister from whom are his Government taking inspiration, Nigel Farage or Enoch Powell?”
Migration crisis is a global issue, says Prime Minister
12:49 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
The figure of 100 million asylum seekers does not come from the Government but from the United Nations, Rishi Sunak has said.
Responding to the SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, the Prime Minister said: “What a load of nonsense.
“In fact, the figure of 100 million … it doesn’t come from the Government, it comes from the United Nations and it illustrates the scale of the global migration crisis the world is grappling with, which is why it is right that we take action because if we do not, the numbers will continue to grow.
“They have more than quadrupled in just two years. It’s a sign of what is to come and our system will continue to be overwhelmed.
“If that happens, we will not be able to help the people who are most in need of our support, our generosity and our compassion.”
Former Tory minister slams UK’s extradiction deal with US
12:51 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
The UK’s extradition treaty with the US is a “parody of justice” that must be corrected, a Conservative former minister has claimed.
David Davis told the Commons: “Since it came into force in 2003, the US has extradited 83 people to the UK, we have sent 225 to America. Three-quarters of those have been for non-violent and largely white collar alleged crimes.
“There is a fundamental unfairness at the heart of our extradition treaty and it was shown by the fact that Anne Sacoolas refused to come to face trial for the killing of Harry Dunn.”
The Haltemprice and Howden MP claimed many people extradited from the UK face “unfair trail” in the US, adding: “Correcting this is important. Will the Prime Minister look at this treaty with a view to correcting this parody of justice?”
Rishi Sunak replied: “Obviously it is in our national interest to have effective extradition relationships and under the treaty we have with the US we have secured the extradition and subsequent conviction of terrorists, murderers, rapists and child sex offenders.
“I am happy to met with him to discuss this issue further. As he knows, the US has refused, I think, one UK extradition request and the UK has refused 27, but I know that he has concerns and I would be happy to meet him to discuss this further.”
Lib Dem leader tells of woman who died after driving herself to hospital amid ambulance delays
12:54 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey shared the story of a woman who collapsed at A&E and later died after making her own way to hospital because of ambulance delays.
Sir Ed told the Commons: “When Jean rang 999 she was told she would have to wait at least eight hours for an ambulance. So, she got in her car and drove herself to Eastbourne district general hospital.
“She paid for parking and made it to the entrance of A&E, where she collapsed. Jean died an hour later.
“No-one should lose their mother or grandmother like that, so will the Prime Minister apologise to Jean’s family and to all those who have lost loved ones due to the Government’s appalling ambulance delays?”
Rishi Sunak replied: “Of course, my thoughts and condolences go to Jean and Jean’s family for what has happened. It is absolutely right that we continue to make progress on improving the performance in urgent and emergency care.
“We outlined plans to do this just the other month and I am pleased to say that we are seeing performance improve, whether it is waits in A&E or ambulance performance times, a considerably marked improvement over the last several weeks compared to the peak pressures that we saw over the winter due to Covid and flu.”
PM refuses to say whether Mo Farah would have been expelled from UK under new rules
12:58 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
The Prime Minister did not say whether Olympian Sir Mo Farah would have been removed under his new asylum plans when challenged.
Labour MP for Bradford East, Imran Hussain, said: “Under this Government’s new dystopian, far-right appeasing, anti-refugee Bill, those who are trafficked to the UK would still face deportation.
“Can the Prime Minister therefore clear up whether Sir Mo Farah, who last year bravely revealed that he was trafficked to the UK as a child, would have been removed under this Bill?”
Rishi Sunak said: “It is precisely because we do want to help the world’s most vulnerable people that we’ve got to stop our system being exploited and overwhelmed by illegal migrants who are being trafficked here by criminal gangs.
“There is nothing compassionate, there is nothing fair, about supporting that system continuing, and that’s why our new laws are the right way to deal with this.”
Dover MP urges PM to ensure France does more to tackle migrant crisis
13:04 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke pushed the Prime Minister to ensure more is done on the French side of the Channel to prevent asylum seekers crossing in small boats.
The MP for Dover referenced the Prime Minister’s work on “pull factors to tackle illegal immigration” and asked: “The Prime Minister has a meeting upcoming with President Macron this week.
She asked: “Could I ask him to see what more can be done to deal with the push factors of illegal migration around small boats, particularly pushing those boats across French beaches, and pushing those boats from French beaches into the French sea?”
Rishi Sunak said: “There is no single lever that will solve this problem, which is right that we work on all the different things that will make a difference, including close co-operation with the French.”
He outlined a deal on co-operation with France and added he looks forward to “strengthening that co-operation and furthering that discussion this Friday”.
15:58 , Matt Watts
That ends our politics blog coverage for the day.