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Keir Starmer in Dover to reveal Labour plan to tackle small boat crossings

Sir Keir Starmer has promised to make Kent’s shores “hostile territory for people-smuggling gangs" in a speech in Dover this morning.

The Labour party leader announced plans to crackdown on small boat crossings by rolling out a new Border Security Command unit.

He said the specialist division will be paid for with cash earmarked for the current government’s £75 million Rwanda scheme if his party wins power.

Starmer said a Labour government will turn the page on the Tories’ “talk tough, do nothing culture” which, he claims, has led to record numbers - over 8,500 crossings already this year.

Sir Keir also highlighted more than 52,000 people are now stuck in the Tory asylum backlog, living in taxpayer-funded asylum accommodation and hotels, with no realistic prospect of removal, at a cost of billions each year.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer in Dover, outlining plans to stop small boat crossings
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer in Dover, outlining plans to stop small boat crossings

The new command will work with international agencies cross-border, the party says, to “smash” the gangs sending people to the UK.

It will build on the party’s existing commitment to work closely with Europol and others to put Britain’s police at the heart of pan-European efforts to counter people smuggling, the party says.

The announcement comes after a series of damning reports from former Army officer and independent chief inspector of borders, David Neal.

He recently identified serious issues at Britain’s borders, including a lack of basic equipment, border posts left unmanned, and insufficient staff numbers.

Natalie Elphicke at the Houses of Parliament. Picture: Office of Natalie Elphicke MP
Natalie Elphicke at the Houses of Parliament. Picture: Office of Natalie Elphicke MP

The speech comes after Natalie Elphicke, MP for Dover, crossed the floor of the House of Commons to join the Labour on Wednesday.

Speaking from the constituency of his newest MP, Starmer set out details of his party’s plans to create a new border security command.

Labour says it would consist of an elite body reporting to the home secretary which will bring together all the key agencies – the National Crime Agency, Immigration Enforcement, CPS, MI5.

Starmer outlined plans to hire hundreds of additional specialist investigators, intelligence agents and cross-border police officers.

Under the party’s plans, they would support the new border security command unit and work across the UK and Europe, split across multiple agencies; National Crime Agency, MI5, Border Force, CPS International and Immigration Enforcement.

He also revealed his border security command will be bolstered by the use of new counter-terrorist powers to tackle the small boats problem and protect Britain’s borders.

A rescue operation taking place after an “incident” involving a small boats vessel
A rescue operation taking place after an “incident” involving a small boats vessel

Announcing his new proposals, Sir Keir said the Tory party has shown their “rank incompetence” on small boats, and that Labour’s policy will “replace gimmicks with graft”.

He said: “Rebuilding our asylum system has become a test of political strength, a trial of leadership to resist the voices who fundamentally do not want to rebuild a functioning asylum system.

“It's become a question of whether you can prioritize, at all times, the politics of practical solutions, and reject the politics of performative symbols - the gimmicks and gestures.

“This is the story of what has happened to the Government, which finds itself with a record of failure as total and stark as this. It isn’t just rank incompetence, it’s about who the Tories are and the culture in Westminster that rewards the grand gesture and the big talk, while disregarding the small deed and detailed practical action that over time, over the course of a government, can move a nation forward, step by step.

“It’s not hard to see why the Prime Minister might want a path to deterrence without the hard graft, the boring graft maybe, of fixing the wider system. But I’m afraid, like so much of what he says these days, it’s sticking plasters. Gimmicks, not serious government.

Migrants arriving in the UK. Photo Gareth Fuller/PA
Migrants arriving in the UK. Photo Gareth Fuller/PA

“A Travelodge Amnesty, handed out by the Tory Party that, if nothing else, is warmer and safer than spending winter under canvas near a beach in Northern France. If you don’t think that’s what the gangs are telling the people they exploit – you don’t know them.

“We have to restore integrity and rules to our asylum system. We have to clear the backlog. That is the path – the only path - to real deterrence.

“So we will hire hundreds of new caseworkers for the Home Office – and we’ll do it immediately - we will create a new fast-track Returns and Enforcement Unit. We will ensure our courts can process claims quickly, and we will save the taxpayer billions.

“Labour will stop the chaos. Labour will bust the backlogs. Labour will rebuild our broken asylum system.”

Appearing today at Betteshanger Park alongside her new leader, Ms Elphicke explained why it was time to switch sides - as she again took aim at Tory leader and Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak.

"When I was elected in 2019, it was to stand on that centre-ground manifesto and what we've seen is the Conservatives move away from that centre-ground and, under Rishi Sunak, break a number of those manifesto promises," explained the 53-year-old.

"When I look at some of the more recent decisions, the collapse in the house-building numbers in the last year, the betrayal on the renters' reform that was set out in the manifesto, these are issues that really matter and matter to people here in Dover and Deal.

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke delivering a speech in Dover
Dover MP Natalie Elphicke delivering a speech in Dover

"They are issues that I have in my casework and in my inbox, helping people who are in insecure housing and I think, for me, that was the final catalyst.

"After a very, very long consideration, that absolutely my right home is in the Labour Party and I absolutely back that vision of the future, that positive vision for our country that Keir Starmer has set out."

Since her switch to Labour, it has been confirmed Mike Tapp will remain Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for the seat in the upcoming election and Ms Elphicke vowed to continue working with him to ensure the party secures the seat whenever the general election is called.

She said: "In relation to me as the MP, I'm still the MP. People can contact me in the usual way and I really hope that people will just continue to ask me to help with their casework.

"Of course, I will be signing up for our community here and in Parliament through to the general election."

When asked about how it felt to have the Labour leader in her patch, Ms Elphicke admitted she was "absolutely delighted" to welcome her new boss and spoke positively about his plan of action.

‘I think if people want that change, then they must absolutely come and join that change and vote for Labour…’ - Natalie Elphicke

"I think that Labour has a really positive vision for the change that our country needs,” she added.

"There are so many deep-seated problems, from housing to small boats, and they need to be tackled in a really sensible way and that's what Keir Starmer has been setting out today in his approach on the Border Security Command and the immigration approach.

"So I do think that people in our community want sensible, reasonable, practical, deliverable approaches on these issues.

"That's what Keir Starmer's Labour Party have to offer. That's what I want to be a part of.

"That's why I've joined the Labour Party and I think if people want that change, then they must absolutely come and join that change and vote for Labour at the general election."

The Conservative leader of Kent County Council says he understands why party activists would feel betrayed by Ms Elphicke.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA

Cll Roger Gough said he had been taken by surprise by her shock defection.

“Well it came as a big shock to me it is not exactly a meeting of ideological minds; I am all in favour of parties being big tents and broad churches but this stretches the Labour church to a pretty big space. I am very sorry that this has happened.”

Asked if he thought that constituents and party activists had been betrayed, he said: “I don’t like to use that word often but it is going to be pretty painful for those who worked for her locally.

“They have been put in a very difficult position. If you were looking at a list of people you thought might defect, Natalie would not have been very high on that list and might not have been there at all.”

Analysis by KentOnline political editor Paul Francis

You can’t blame Labour for wanting to capitalise on the defection of the Dover MP Natalie Elphicke, who switched sides because the team she was on was incompetent and had failed to stop the small boats crossing.

The Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer pitched up in Kent, a county he said was “turning red” - with recent election advances that he hoped would continue.

It was billed as a keynote speech on how the party would deal with the problem of small boats - with Labour planning to increase the numbers of caseworkers to help clear the backlog and end what he described as a “get tough, do nothing” culture of the government.

There was a lot of talk about how Labour’s plans would succeed where the Conservatives had failed and with no irony at all, Starmer said there would be ‘no gimmicks’ if Labour won the election.

Given his claim that Labour’s policies were tougher than the Conservatives, he was asked if he would accept an application to join the party from Nigel Farage.

He sounded like he’d not anticipated that one and closed it down by saying Farage was unlikely to want to sign up as a member.

As to other potential defectors, he wasn’t to be drawn and after the fallout within his own party, it may well be a list that he puts away in a locked storage box marked “do not open”.

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