Labour says it would be open to EU migrants quota – sparking Tory criticism


Labour says it would be open to EU migrants quota - sparking Tory criticism

Labour has confirmed it could accept a quota of migrants from the EU under a returns agreement it hopes to strike with the bloc if it wins power at the next general election.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Nick Thomas-Symonds said the “objective” was to secure a returns agreement to establish “management and control of the system” as he accused the Conservatives of having “lost control of our borders”.

Mr Thomas-Symonds spoke to Sky News while Sir Keir Starmer and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper meet European officials in The Hague – and as the party unveils proposals to treat smuggling gangs “on a par” with terrorists.

The potential for a returns agreement has already attracted controversy, with Tory Party chair Greg Hands accusing Labour of a “shocking open door policy on immigration”.

The EU is currently working on a new returns agreement that would mean each member state takes a minimum annual quota of 30,000 migrants, or pay €20,000 (£17,200) for each person they do not accept.

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Mr Thomas-Symonds told Sky News: “What we are looking to do as an objective is a returns agreement.

“At the moment, the government is in a position to return people already to particular countries. They are not fast-tracking that situation. They’re not doing that competently.

Labour says it would be open to EU migrants quota - sparking Tory criticism

“What we would be looking for is management and control of the system, which is absolutely vital and not there at the moment under this government.”

When it was put to him on Sky News that the UK is 13% of Europe’s population and therefore could have to accept the same percentage of migrants under an agreement – equating to around 182,000 people per year – Mr Thomas-Symonds said he did not accept the figure.

He said the exact details would be for a potential future Labour government to negotiate with the EU.

“Our position is that net migration has been too high in the UK and we want to see that coming down. That’s our overall position and that’s something we’d obviously take into any negotiation with the EU,” he said.

Labour also wants to have more UK police officers posted with Europol for joint investigations – aiming to disrupt the gangs before they reach the coast – and work with EU partners on data and intelligence sharing, replacing access the UK lost to certain programmes after Brexit.

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Rishi Sunak hit back at Labour’s assertion that the government has “lost control of the borders” and claimed Sir Keir’s plan would see the UK accept 100,000 migrants from the EU every year – although he did not say how he had calculated this figure.

Speaking to broadcasters on a visit to Devon, the prime minister said the Labour leader “spent all of this year voting against our stop the boats bill, the toughest legislation that any government has passed to tackle illegal migration”.

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Labour says it would be open to EU migrants quota - sparking Tory criticism

Mhari Aurora

Politics and business correspondent


Territory usually seen as belonging to the Conservatives, Sir Keir Starmer is talking tough on immigration.

In The Netherlands with his shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, the Labour leader has announced Labour’s plans for a new security partnership with Europe to smash the business model of the people smuggling gangs bringing migrants in boats across the Channel.

Labour’s plans include giving more powers to the National Crime Agency, real-time intelligence sharing with European partners and setting up a new cross border policing unit – paid for by scrapping the Rwanda scheme.

Sir Keir also wants to make it possible to restrict the movement of and freeze the assets of those suspected of people smuggling, treating suspected smugglers more like terrorists or drug traffickers.

But it’s a potential returns agreement with the EU that is causing an almighty row.

In an interview with The Times newspaper, the leader of the opposition said accepting quotas of migrants from the EU in exchange for a returns agreement would be reserved for future negotiations with Brussels.

This has alarmed Tories who believe this to be confirmation that Labour would open up the UK’s doors to higher numbers of refugees than we currently already receive.

Shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds told Sky News: “A wider returns agreement with the EU – that’s of course subject to negotiation.”

He went on to say that any returns agreement would be “under new arrangements” and that the objective for his party was to reduce net migration.

But government ministers beg to differ.

Home Office minister Robert Jenrick posted on X: “Not content with voting against every one of our measures to stop the boats, Keir Starmer is now opening the door to taking over 100,000 illegal migrants from the safety of the EU. His ‘plan’ is a recipe for even more illegal migration.”

Labour insists their plans will allow the UK to take back control of its immigration system.

But government sources tell Sky News that Sir Keir has made it easier for them to argue that Labour would be soft on immigration.

Small boat crossings will be a critical topic at the next general election but it appears that both parties believe this is one fight they can win.

He added: “I don’t think it’s credible that he really wants to grip this problem.”

In August, The Times reported Mr Sunak was also attempting to secure a returns agreement with the EU, but that the negotiations stalled.

It is likely any agreement would have involved the UK taking a share of EU migration.

Downing Street today told reporters the government was open to a returns deal with the EU but would not accept a quota of migrants in exchange.

The prime minister’s official spokesman did not rule out the possibility of a funding deal which would see UK taxpayers’ money go to Brussels as part of an agreement.

“There are discussions ongoing, so I’m not going to get into whether or not we would or would not fund any further co-operation,” the spokesman said.

In his interview with The Times, the Labour leader said he would treat people smugglers like terrorists by freezing their assets and restricting their movements.

Speaking from The Hague, Sir Keir told broadcasters: “The government has lost control of our borders, and we can see that with the number of crossings there are across the Channel in small boats. We have to stop that.”

He said the “only way to do that is to smash the gangs that are running this vile trade,” and that he had been speaking to Europol today about getting a “closer agreement” to tackle it.

“That is taking control of a situation that the government has totally lost control of,” he declared.

Sir Keir rejected assertions that such a deal with Europe would be a betrayal of the 2016 Brexit referendum, and said the only way to defeat the gangs is to “operate where they’re operating”, which is in Europe and beyond.

Asked about Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s claim that his plan would make Britain Europe’s “dumping ground” for “millions” of illegal migrants, Sir Keir said it’s “embarrassing that the government is pumping out this nonsense”.

Labour says it would be open to EU migrants quota - sparking Tory criticism

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“I can only assume it’s because they’ve got nothing sensible to say on this issue,” he said.

More than 23,000 people have made the dangerous journey across the Channel in the year so far – with over 3,000 making the crossing in September alone.

Mr Sunak has made tackling the issue one of his five priorities for the year, promising to “stop the boats” with measures such as deporting some migrants to Rwanda and housing people on barges.

But both schemes have hit barriers, with Rwanda flights caught up in the courts and an outbreak of Legionella disease on the Bibby Stockholm vessel.

Mr Sunak has repeatedly defended the government’s progress, saying: “We’ve already reduced the legacy backlog by over 28,000 – nearly a third – since the start of December and we remain on track to meet our target.”


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