No more Tory gimmicks – it’s time to get a grip on small boat crossings

Smuggler and trafficking gangs have run rings round the Tories
Smuggler and trafficking gangs have run rings round the Tories - Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Small boat crossings are undermining our border security and putting lives at risk – 12,000 people have arrived already this year, the highest number of spring crossings on record.

Rishi Sunak’s policies are clearly not working, and are making the chaos worse. It’s time for change.

After 14 years of Conservative government, the asylum system is broken, criminal smuggling gangs have been allowed to take hold along the Channel and Britain’s borders have been badly undermined.

All ministers have offered are headline‑grabbing gimmicks and empty promises. We can’t carry on like this. Instead of more rhetoric, we need a serious plan.

No one should be making these dangerous boat crossings. Five years ago, barely a handful of these flimsy dinghies crossed the sea. But smuggler and trafficking gangs have run rings round the Tories.

An entire criminal industry has been allowed to make a fortune putting lives at risk in the Channel, running their networks, back through France, with supply chains through transit countries from Bulgaria to Germany, and operations from the money markets of Istanbul to the hills of Kurdistan. They have become increasingly violent and exploitative, and they will keep on operating with impunity unless we act.

Yet instead of a proper strategy to go after the gangs or tackle some of these problems at source, ministers have spent two years running a failing and extortionate Rwanda scheme.

Every three or four months, they claim they are about to send flights. Instead, all they’ve sent is £300 million and two volunteers. No one believes it is a deterrent – and it certainly isn’t deterring the gangs.

If Rishi Sunak believed the Rwanda scheme would work, he wouldn’t have called an election before getting a single flight off the ground. The whole policy is a con. Capacity is capped, and even if they sent flights it will only ever cover one per cent of asylum seekers. More people arrived in a single day last week than Rwanda could take in an entire year.

Meanwhile there is no plan at all for the 99 per cent, who under Conservative policy can just stay in the UK and in asylum accommodation indefinitely.

Labour won’t govern by gimmick. We’ll take the money from the failing Rwanda scheme and use it to boost Britain’s border security instead, creating a new border security command with 1,000 new cross-border police, intelligence officers and investigators and new counter-terror powers, to pursue and smash the criminal gangs.

We will build security partnerships with other European police forces to go after the criminals and their supply chains, stopping boats reaching the French coast in the first place.

Instead of an increasing backlog where people stay permanently in taxpayer-funded hotels at a staggering £8 million a day, Labour will clear the Conservatives’ backlog, fast track cases from safe countries, end the asylum hotels and fix the chaos in the asylum system – saving billions of pounds.

We’ll restore credibility to the asylum system and ensure rules are enforced. Shockingly, returns have collapsed by a staggering 40 per cent since the Tories came to power. All their rhetoric hasn’t worked – it’s time for a practical plan. No more Tory gimmicks – it’s time to get a grip.

Yvette Cooper is the shadow home secretary