When I go out door-knocking in Barnsley, the issue of immigration often comes up, and I know many people locally have legitimate concerns about our immigration system, which need to be addressed. Concerns that, as Shadow Security Minister, I share.
From wave machines to jet ski patrols, it’s hard to keep track of all the gimmicks the Government have floated to get a grip of the small boat crisis, meanwhile the number of people making the dangerous journey across the Channel has shot-up and is now a staggering 150 times higher than it was five years ago.
This drift cannot be allowed to continue, because it’s only benefitting one group – that’s not the British public, or those stuck in asylum limbo and certainly not the taxpayer footing the £8 million per day hotel bill. The only people who the status quo is working for are the vile criminal gangs all too aware of the weaknesses of the current system and who profit off the back of it. If we are serious about stopping people from risking their lives by making the treacherous journey to the UK then we must start by smashing the criminal gangs who orchestrate this vile trade.
The Government’s failure to grip this means there is now a thriving criminal industry estimated to be worth somewhere in the region of £200 million. Gangs with no regard for human life are raking in huge amounts of cash by packing utterly desperate people into dangerously small boats on perilous waters. It’s shameful that convictions of people smugglers are 30% lower than under the last Labour Government and I have real concern about the impact this has on the security of our borders.
That’s why Labour would crackdown on the criminal smuggling gangs by introducing stronger powers for the UK’s National Crime Agency to restrict the movement of those suspected of being involved in people smuggling and by recruiting hundreds of new officers and investigators, based in the UK and across Europe to more effectively target the criminal gangs.
That would include officers being posted directly to Europol, Europe’s cross-border law enforcement agency, to co-operate on joint investigations and to identify and seize boats. We would also work more closely with our neighbours to allow for the real-time sharing of intelligence on people smuggling suspects.
One of the Government’s policies to tackle the small boats issue is a proposal to send people to Rwanda. A scheme that’s already cost the taxpayer an eyewatering £140 million, that could only ever take a fraction of the number of people arriving, and to date, the only person who has actually gone to Rwanda are the current and former Home Secretary on a visit.
On Monday I asked the Home Secretary what’s a better use of taxpayer’s money − £140 million on a flawed Rwanda scheme or recruiting hundreds of new officers and investigators to defeat the criminal gang networks to prevent dangerous boat crossings?
Of course, she ducked the question.I won’t let up on this issue, not only because it raises serious questions about our borders and national security, but also because it’s a policy that just won’t work, but then it’s not designed to. It’s all about stirring things up rather than serious attempt to solve a difficult problem. Britain should have fair and reasonable controls on immigration, however that does not need to be at such high financial, reputational, legal, and ethical costs.