People-smuggling should be treated ‘on a par’ with terrorism, Sir Keir Starmer says

Whether Labour's proposed agreement is a good policy proposal will depend on the terms that the European Union agree to, as Shehab Khan reports

People-smuggling should be treated “on a par” with terrorism, Sir Keir Starmer has said, as he promised new measures aimed at preventing small boat crossings if Labour wins the next general election.

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 be part of the plan.

The Labour leader said: “The first job of any government is national security – protecting the British people from threats that come from here and overseas.

“The Government’s failure to tackle the criminal smuggling gangs orchestrating boat crossings is now so profound that I believe it needs to be considered on a par with the other three big security threats we face: climate change, hostile foreign powers and terrorism.”

Sir Keir is seeking to emphasise his credentials as former director of public prosecutions during a visit to The Hague with shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper on Thursday.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper work in their hotel in The Hague Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The Labour leader wants a deal with the European Union to be able to send those who cross the Channel illegally back to the EU - a move which has prompted some criticism. Defending the policy, Sir Keir told broadcasters from The Hague: "If we're going to smash the gangs that are running this vile trade of putting people into the water to cross the channel, then we have to operate where they're operating. "And they're operating in France, across Europe - beyond Europe, in fact. And that's why I'm here talking about what we can do with our EU partners, but also beyond that."

The home secretary hit back saying that would see the UK become a "dumping ground for Europe's migrants".

Taking a hard-line stance on immigration crime will be seen as important to convince swing voters that Labour can be trusted to stem the number of Channel crossings, which have passed 22,200 in 2023, in the run-up to a likely general election next year.

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 would also scrap the Rwanda deportation policy. No one has yet been deported to the African nation amid a government legal battle with the Supreme Court. 

The party has also vowed to strengthen powers to restrict the movement of people smugglers and traffickers by making it quicker and easier to obtain civil orders known as serious crime prevention orders.

“My Labour government will be twice as ruthless, to smash the gangs and secure British borders,” Sir Keir said.

“These criminal smuggling gangs are growing fat on the Government’s failures, while the Tories ramp up empty rhetoric around illegal immigration for cheap headlines.”

Sir Keir’s meeting with Europol officials at The Hague comes ahead of a trip to Montreal, Canada, for a summit of “progressive” politicians.

Reports suggest he is also set to be hosted by French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris next week.

The Labour leader has met several European leaders during his tenure, including German chancellor Olaf Scholz, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and then-Irish premier Micheal Martin.

He could also be eyeing a meeting in the White House with US president Joe Biden in the coming months, whose “Bidenomics” and landmark green subsidy push has attracted admiration from the Opposition.

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