Sunak claims Labour would make UK ‘illegal migration capital of the world’

Sunak claims Labour would make UK ‘illegal migration capital of the world’

Rishi Sunak has claimed Labour would make the UK the “soft-touch illegal migration capital of the world” as the Tories highlighted their plans to cut illegal and legal immigration.

The Prime Minister stepped up attacks on Sir Keir Starmer’s proposals to curb migration which the Conservatives claimed would let thousands more into the UK each year.

He criticised what he called Sir Keir’s “illegal migration amnesty and sweetheart deal with the EU” in a desperate bid to reduce Labour’s stubborn double-digit poll lead ahead of the July 4 General Election.

The Conservatives reiterated their pledges to halt illegal migration, including “running a regular rhythm of flights to Rwanda to provide an effective deterrent, starting in July, until the boats are stopped”.

But the Opposition hit back that “instead of the gimmicks, Labour will get a grip” on the issue and accused the Tories of “desperately inventing lies” about their policies.

It comes as the number of migrants arriving in the UK after crossing the English Channel hit a new record for the first six months of a calendar year – at 12,901.

The tally of crossings since Mr Sunak, who promised to “stop the boats”, became Prime Minister in October 2022 is fast approaching 50,000.

The Tories also vowed to bring into force the Illegal Migration Act, which became law last year, “stop illegal migrants from bringing spurious claims to stop their removal”, and return more people with no right to be in the UK to their own country.

On cutting legal migration, the party repeated its plans to introduce a cap on the number of work visas and allowing Parliament to vote on where the limit should be set.

If re-elected, the Tories would commission the independent Migration Advisory Committee to recommend an annual level, and automatically hike the salary threshold for skilled workers and the family income requirement in line with inflation.

Net migration – the difference between the number of people legally arriving in the UK and leaving – hit 685,000 last year, more than three times higher than the figure at the time of the last election when the Conservatives promised to cut overall numbers in their 2019 manifesto.

Mr Sunak said: “Migration is too high and the Conservatives have a clear plan to get it down. Labour would rip up our plan on day one by scrapping the Rwanda scheme, despite countries across Europe looking to it themselves to deal with their own migration pressures.

“Labour’s only alternative is an illegal migration amnesty and sweetheart deal with the EU that would see Britain taking even more illegal migrants from the continent – the opposite of what Britain needs.

“So that’s the clear choice at this election – the Conservatives who have shown they will take the bold action necessary to break the model of the smuggling gangs and stop the boats, and Labour who would make us the soft-touch illegal migration capital of the world and take us back to square one.”

Home Secretary James Cleverly added that Labour would “send immigration soaring”, saying: “The Labour Party have got a complete vacuum where their policies should be. Their big idea is for a border command that already exists.”

Sir Keir Starmer’s party has pledged in its manifesto to axe the multimillion-pound stalled plan to send migrants to Rwanda and use the money to pay for a new security border command.

If elected, Labour would launch the unit with “hundreds of new specialist investigators”, vowing to “use counter-terror powers to smash criminal boat gangs” in a bid to curb Channel crossings.

Sir Keir Starmer
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has been keen to challenge Tory claims of being soft on immigration (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The party would also seek a “new security agreement with the EU to ensure access to real-time intelligence” so police can work with European counterparts.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “The Tories’ so-called plan is more of the same chaotic failures and desperate lies – they are trying to take the country for fools.

“Small boat crossings have hit 50,000 on Rishi Sunak’s watch and net migration has trebled since the last election.

“The extortionate Rwanda scheme has been running two years and just two volunteers have been sent. Rishi Sunak’s promises and policies are all just a total con. All they are offering is more of the same failed approach while desperately inventing lies about Labour.

“Labour will set up a new Border Security Command with new counter terror powers and hundreds of additional cross-border police and investigators to smash criminal smuggler gangs.

“We will put a stop to the Tories asylum hotel amnesty by clearing the backlog with a new Returns and Enforcement Unit to return those with no right to be here.

“Labour will link visa controls to new workforce plans and training requirements to tackle skills shortages and bring net migration down.”

Mr Sunak is not expected to hit the campaign trail on Tuesday, when his prime ministerial duties will see him focus on the state visit of the Japanese emperor and empress.