Labour’s Migration Policy: A Shift to the Right or a Sensible Solution?

The issue of immigration has been a contentious one in British politics for decades, especially after the Brexit referendum in 2016. The Conservative government led by Rishi Sunak has been pursuing a hardline approach, proposing to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing and refusing to accept any quota of migrants from the EU. The Labour party, under the leadership of Keir Starmer, has recently unveiled its own migration policy, which aims to strike a balance between humanitarianism and pragmatism. But is Labour’s policy a genuine alternative to the Tories’ “fruitcake” immigration policies, or is it a shift to the right that risks alienating its core supporters?

Labour’s Plan: Cooperation, Not Confrontation

Labour’s migration policy is based on the premise that cooperation with the EU and other countries is the best way to deal with the migration crisis, rather than confrontation and isolation. Starmer and the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, have been touring Europe to discuss solutions with various stakeholders, including Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president. Labour’s plan includes the following proposals:

  • Renegotiating the Dublin regulation, which allows the UK to return asylum seekers to the first EU country they entered, in exchange for taking a quota of refugees who arrive in the bloc. This would require the UK to rejoin the EU’s asylum system, which it left after Brexit.

Labour’s Migration Policy: A Shift to the Right or a Sensible Solution

  • Reinstating the Dubs scheme, which would allow the UK to accept 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees from Europe and other regions.
  • Increasing the number of asylum caseworkers to clear the backlog of applications, which currently stands at more than 175,000.
  • Treating people-smuggling gangs like terrorists, and working with Europol and other agencies to crack down on their operations.
  • Restoring the UK’s international aid budget, which was cut by the Tories, and investing in development and conflict resolution in the regions where most migrants originate from.

Labour’s Rationale: Competence, Not Compassion

Labour’s migration policy is not driven by compassion, but by competence. Starmer and Cooper have been keen to emphasise that their plan is not about reversing Brexit, but about making it work better. They have also been careful to avoid any language that could be seen as soft or lenient on immigration, instead using terms such as “smashing” criminal gangs and “sensible” solutions. Labour’s strategy is to appeal to voters in the former “red wall” seats, which the party lost to the Tories in the 2019 election, and who are generally more sceptical of immigration. Labour hopes to convince them that it has changed since the last election, and that it shares their concerns. Labour also hopes to exploit the Tories’ vulnerability on immigration, as Sunak has failed to deliver on his pledge to reduce the number of unofficial arrivals, and has faced criticism for his unlawful and inhumane proposals.

Labour’s Dilemma: Principle, Not Populism

Labour’s migration policy is not without risks, however. It faces a dilemma between principle and populism, between its values and its voters. On the one hand, Labour’s policy could be seen as a shift to the right, which could alienate its core supporters, especially those who are pro-EU and pro-migration. Labour could also be accused of playing into the Tories’ narrative, which portrays migration as a problem to be solved, rather than a reality to be managed. On the other hand, Labour’s policy could be seen as too timid, which could fail to win over the voters it needs to regain power. Labour could also be challenged on the feasibility and desirability of its proposals, such as the quota system and the Dublin regulation, which have been controversial and problematic in the past.

Labour’s migration policy is a delicate balancing act, which tries to offer a middle ground between the Tories’ hardline approach and the Liberal Democrats’ more liberal stance. Labour’s policy is not a radical departure from the Tories’ “fruitcake” immigration policies, but neither is it a complete endorsement of them. Labour’s policy is a pragmatic response to a complex and divisive issue, which reflects the party’s ambition to regain trust and credibility on immigration.

By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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