Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has put forth the position that people-smuggling should be handled with the same gravity as terrorism. His comments come as he looks to negotiate a fresh security agreement with Europe.
During a visit to The Hague, Sir Keir aims to reach a conditional understanding with Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement organisation. He is optimistic that a future Labour government will utilise such arrangement to substitute the European Union’s current real-time police information and intelligence-sharing system.
The Government, however, interprets Sir Keir’s proposal as a mere revisitation of their established policies. Sir Keir counters this view, expressing his concern over the government’s ineffective measures in dealing with criminal gangs organising boat migrations, a situation he deems parallels grave security threats such as climate change, hostile foreign powers, and terrorism.
Echoing Starmer’s stance on controlling illegal migration, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak considers halting unlawful crossings as a prime priority, a view that led to the enactment of a law aimed at reducing the illegal flux.
Despite these measures, data reveals that 45,755 migrants crossed the Channel in 2022, marking a surge since 2018 when record-keeping started. The present year has already seen 20,101 individuals making the crossing.
In a commentary written for the Sun newspaper, Starmer criticised the government’s enabling role in the thriving ‘criminal industry’ of people smuggling via organised small boat operations. Starmer advocated for strong leadership in Europe, regardless of the UK’s status outside the European Union.
Highlighting his strategy, Starmer proposed a transnational police force to dismantle smuggling operations during a meeting with high-ranking Europol officials. Labour maintains its stance against government initiatives to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, pledging more resources to the National Crime Agency for increased operations against traffickers.
By leaving the European Union, UK lost its position on Europol’s board and its access to shared intelligence databases. New agreements sought to fill the gaps left by this departure, introducing measures that included a new extradition deal to facilitate the transfer of serious criminals and an agreement for the exchange of criminal records, fingerprints and vehicle registration data.
However, high-ranking police officials express concerns over the newly adopted I-24/7 system, dubbing the EU’s Schengen Information System as considerably faster in sharing police information.
In response, the government has pledged to enhance other shared databases in the coming years. Sir Keir voiced his concerns about the UK’s borders and immigration system, claiming they are falling under the control of ‘a hostile and growing foreign power’—the criminal gangs involved in smuggling activities.
On the other hand, sources from the Conservative Party argue that more stringent law enforcement might not be effective in resolving the ‘small boats crisis’. They claim that Sir Keir’s plan is an echo of existing government strategies aimed at combating smuggling activities abroad. They further argue that to prevent attempts to illegally cross borders, stricter measures such as those enacted in Rwanda are required — a stand that advocates for deterrence and removals programs as opposed to crackdowns on human trafficking rings.