Labour vs the Tories: How they plan to solve the small boats crisis

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Stamer (Getty)
Rivals Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Stamer have both set out their immigration plans. (Getty Images)

What's happening? Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has unveiled plans to classify people traffickers as terrorists and sign a new deal with the EU which could see the UK accept a quota of asylum seekers.

Despite heavy rhetoric and a raft of new policies from prime minister Rishi Sunak's government, the number of people crossing the English Channel remains high.

This is a problem for Sunak who made stopping the boat crossings one of his five pledges for his first year in office.

On Thursday, Starmer announced how he would tackle the issue, saying he would agree to take a quota of asylum seekers from the EU in exchange for the bloc taking back the people who make illegal crossings.

Starmer also said the focus of the policy would be to smash the gangs behind the "vile" trade, preventing people leaving in small boats from France in the first place.

Here Yahoo News UK takes a look at the different plans presented by Labour and the Tories to tackle the small boats as the country heads towards a general election next year.

Labour's immigration policy

The core of the new policy is two-fold - firstly, Starmer has argued for a new deal with the EU to control the flow of asylum seekers crossing the Channel.

Starmer's plan would see the UK take a quota of asylum seekers in the EU under a "quid pro quo" deal with the bloc, if it would take back asylum seekers who made the crossing.

He said this would reverse the current situation where people smugglers, not the government, decide who is coming into the UK.

The second part of the plan would seek to treat trafficking gangs like terrorists and to increase the presence of British police on the continent.

Sir Keir Starmer visited Europol this week, which would play a key part in his immigration plan. (Getty)
Sir Keir Starmer visited Europol this week, which would play a key part in his immigration plan. (Getty)

He said part of the deal would be to allow real-time intelligence sharing about people smugglers with the EU, similar to the Schengen Information System II, a database of terror suspects and immigration offenders which the UK could access automatically before Brexit.

Labour would also strengthen powers to restrict the movement of people smugglers.

Funding for the measures would be redirected from the government’s plan to send asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda, which is currently held up in the courts following a series of legal challenges.

The Tories' immigration policy

In recent years the government has announced a raft of plans to deter asylum seekers from crossing the Channel, although few have had an impact so far.

The most controversial policy is the deal signed with Rwanda which will see people who make the crossing illegally resettled in the African country.

The government plans to house asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm. (PA)
The government plans to house asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm. (PA)

Despite the more than £100m deal being announced in April 2022, no one has been deported so far and the policy has been held up in the courts.

The government has been criticised for signing the deal with Rwanda, which has been accused of human rights abuses in the past.

Earlier this year, Sunak announced asylum seekers would be housed on barges and in converted barracks as opposed to the hotels many were being kept in, which was costing £5.6m a day.

The flagship barge, the Bibby Stockholm, only managed to house a handful of asylum seekers for a few days in August before Legionella bacteria was discovered on board and everyone was evacuated.

What does the public think?

Immigration has been up and down the priorities of British voters in the past decade, but the most recent polling by Ipsos Mori found it is currently the fifth most important policy area.

When asked, "What do you see as the most/other important issues facing Britain today?", the top five categories were: inflation (37%), the economy (37%), climate change (25%), the NHS (25%) and immigration (23%).

According to consulting firm Redfield & Wilton, Labour is trusted to do a better job on all of the top 15 issues Britons care about.

(Redfield & Wilton)
Which party do Britons trust more on the key issues? (Redfield & Wilton)

On immigration specifically, YouGov polling carried out in July found only 12% of people believed the number of boats crossing the Channel would be reduced under a Labour government, compared to 31% who thought it would get worse.

But in August, another YouGov poll found the public also had little confidence the Tories would be able to deal with the issue either.

Which political party would be the best at handling asylum and immigration? (YouGov)
Which political party would be the best at handling asylum and immigration? (YouGov)

Just 1% of respondents said they were very confident the Conservative government would stop the boats, compared to 80% who said they had little or no confidence.

In their ongoing poll tracker (last updated on 28 August) YouGov found 23% of voters believe Labour would be better at handling immigration, compared to the Conservatives on 16%.