What lies in the new Home Secretary’s in-tray?

The new Home Secretary faces a multitude of challenges to tackle as soon as she takes office.

As the new boss of the Home Office – the fifth since the last election – Yvette Cooper will want to hit the ground running as she takes the helm of the wide-ranging brief covering immigration, crime, security and policing.

Having served as Labour’s shadow home secretary, and as a former chairwoman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, Ms Cooper is well versed in holding the government department to account.

But it may not be until she steps into the Marsham Street headquarters that she fully comprehends the sheer scale of the task ahead of her.

Overhauling the approach to curbing migrant Channel crossings is expected to be top of Ms Cooper’s to-do list, given her party’s calls for urgent changes in policy.

Likewise, a high priority could be scrapping the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, which Labour vowed to ditch on day one if elected.

Although how straightforward this will be to dismantle in practice remains to be seen.

Ms Cooper said that her first steps as Home Secretary would be to “get neighbourhood police back on our streets” and to set up a “new Border Security Command”.

Speaking outside the Home Office, she said: “The first duty of any government is to keep our country safe, to keep our communities safe and to keep our borders secure.

“That is why my first task as I go into the Home Office will be Labour’s first steps – which means trying to get neighbourhood police back on our streets, in our communities, and also setting up the new Border Security Command to go after the criminal boat gangs that are organising the dangerous boat crossings.

“We know there are a lot of challenges ahead and after 14 years there is some difficult legacy that we will inherit, and we know that that will mean hard graft and not gimmicks ahead in order to tackle that.”

So far this year 13,574 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel, according to the latest available Home Office figures.

This is already a record for the first six months of a calendar year.

It is also 19% higher than the number recorded by this time last year (11,433) and up 5% on the same period in 2022 (12,900), according to PA news agency analysis of government data.

The tally of crossings during Rishi Sunak’s less than two-year tenure as prime minister stands at 50,637.

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into Dover, Kent, onboard a Border Force vessel following a small boat incident in the Channel
A Border Force vessel following a small boat incident in the Channel (Gareth Fuller/PA)

More than 3,000 arrivals were recorded during the campaign, in which immigration was a key battleground, since the General Election was called on May 22 (3,692).

In the last six-and-a-half years, as the migrant crisis unfolded, 127,919 people have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel, data recorded since the start of 2018 shows.

Some 82,938 have made the journey since the previous government struck the stalled deal to send migrants to Rwanda in April 2022.

And 6,907 migrants have arrived since the Safety of Rwanda Act, which was intended to pave the way for deportation flights to get off the ground, received royal assent earlier this year on April 25.

Labour’s manifesto promised to use the money saved from abandoning the Rwanda plan to pay for a new security border command to tackle the dangerous journeys, which would have “hundreds of new specialist investigators” and “use counter-terror powers to smash criminal boat gangs”.

Part of this will be addressing what the party described as the “hopeless” asylum backlog, by hiring more caseworkers to process claims, as well as addressing the millions of pounds being spent on housing asylum seekers in hotels while they await a decision.

Questions remain over whether Labour will restore rights to migrants making the journey to allow them to claim asylum again.

Yvette Cooper
Yvette Cooper is the fifth Home Secretary since the last election (Lucy North/PA)

Also on the list will be establishing more returns agreements and boosting the number of removals for migrants the government determined have no right to be in the UK – something ministers and officials have been trying to achieve since Brexit.

The manifesto also vowed to reduce levels of legal migration, but stopped short of setting a target or providing much explanation of how this could be achieved.

All the while, the crisis of confidence in policing remains prominent amid a litany of scandals about officer conduct, and the debate about how police deal with large-scale protests, including marches linked to the conflict in Gaza and disruption by climate change activists, has put politicians at loggerheads with force chiefs.

Labour promised to “return law and order to our streets”, setting out hopes of cracking down on anti-social behaviour and boosting the numbers of neighbourhood police on the streets in its manifesto.

The party wants to halve knife crime and levels of violence against women and girls within a decade, meanwhile “raising confidence in the police and criminal justice system to its highest levels”.

Ms Cooper will be faced with setting about finding ways in which these promises can be achieved.

Another long-running challenge at the Home Office is its need to bring about changes in the wake of the Windrush scandal and its ongoing mission to ensure victims are properly compensated.

A review previously found the department is at risk of another Windrush-style scandal if it does not bring about the “cultural changes required”.