SNP brands UK Labour's alternative to Rwanda plans 'inhumane' and 'immoral'

It is understood UK Labour is drawing up detailed plans to have asylum seekers’ claims processed overseas

The SNP have branded Labour’s alternative immigration plans to Rwanda “inhumane and immoral”, as the offshore processing of asylum seekers firms as a key battleground in the build-up to next year’s general election.

It is understood UK Labour is drawing up legally watertight alternatives to the UK Government’s Rwanda plan in a bid to stop the Conservatives branding party leader Sir Keir Starmer as weak on immigration.

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The Times reported Sir Keir had ruled out backing Rwanda-style deportation, but is considering detailed plans for offshore processing schemes where asylum seekers have their claims assessed overseas.

Migrants picked up by Border Force while crossing the English Channel in November 2023. Image: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.Migrants picked up by Border Force while crossing the English Channel in November 2023. Image: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.
Migrants picked up by Border Force while crossing the English Channel in November 2023. Image: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

The SNP said the mooted Labour plans represented another reason for why Scotland should be independent, arguing the Scottish Government needed to have its own migration policy.

Alison Thewliss MP, the SNP’s home affairs spokeswoman, said: “Yet again, Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is dancing to the Tory tune, this time on Rwanda and asylum.

“Sir Keir is so weak he has been forced to back Brexit, Tory spending cuts, NHS privatisation – and he is now caught in a trap over the absurd Rwanda plan, which has cost Scottish taxpayers millions of pounds.”

The UK Government’s Rwanda plan was first introduced by former prime minister Boris Johnson in an attempt to dissuade asylum seekers from crossing the English Channel on so-called small boats. Those arriving in the UK without the appropriate documents would be deported to Rwanda to have their claims assessed.

UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Image: Stefan Rousseau/Press Association.UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Image: Stefan Rousseau/Press Association.
UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Image: Stefan Rousseau/Press Association.

The scheme has faced legal challenges and so far no asylum seekers in the UK have been sent to Rwanda.

Rishi Sunak won a key Commons vote on the Safety of Rwanda Bill, designed to insulate the scheme from legal challenges, earlier this month, but further opposition is expected during the coming parliamentary stages in the new year.

Ms Thewliss said: “The SNP is clear – offshoring our fellow human beings is inhumane and immoral. The Labour Party should be ruling out Rwanda-style plans, not helping to enable them.

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“Scotland needs the full powers of independence to determine our own way forward, to ensure a migration system that meets our values and benefits our economy and NHS.

“The SNP will continue to press for the full powers needed to build a system that meets Scotland’s needs and moral obligations – and a choice over Scotland’s future with independence.”

Shadow ministers and Labour party officials say their asylum plan will need to be “legally watertight” so it does not face the same legal hurdles that have stalled the UK Government’s existing Rwanda scheme.

They add plans will need to be cost-effective and credible enough to stop migrants crossing the Channel illegally. This is a notable shift in the Labour Party’s stance on immigration, and comes ahead of a keynote speech by Sir Keir next week.

In this speech, the Labour leader will set out his vision for the country, and officially start the party’s general election campaigning.

Labour is consulting with immigration experts and other European countries that are considering offshoring schemes in drawing up their own plans.

Leaders in Austria, Germany, Italy and Denmark are all exploring proposals to process asylum claims outside the EU. US President Joe Biden is also considering sending illegal migrants attempting to cross the Mexican border to a third country to be processed.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock are discussing proposals for a new scheme with former home secretary Lord Blunkett, who drew up plans to send asylum seekers overseas to places like Tanzania in the early 2000s.

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Labour have not yet decided on which countries they are considering for such a scheme if they win the general election next year.

A Labour source told The Times Sir Keir was “open minded about exploring practical, realistic solutions”, adding a red line for the party would be any scheme that would automatically block an individual being granted asylum in the UK. The source said any scheme would put British officials in charge of processing the claims.

These are two key differences between what is being proposed by UK Labour and Mr Sunak’s Rwanda policy.

The Prime Minister’s policy bars all migrants arriving illegally from ever claiming asylum, and would put them on a one-way flight to Rwanda where Rwandan officials will consider their claims for asylum.

Senior party sources also say they could back an offshore asylum processing scheme in Rwanda, but any scheme would not be value-for-money or meet credibility tests.

UK Labour announced a five-point plan on immigration 18 months ago, including scrapping the Rwanda policy and focusing instead on stronger enforcement action against people smuggling gangs.

Scottish Labour has been approached for comment.



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