“Who broke it?” Starmer attacks the Tories on their immigration system – LabourList

Immigration has long been a tricky topic for Labour to navigate politically, as the subject is frequently weaponised by the Tories. Keir Starmer began today’s Prime Minister’s Questions by raising Suella Braverman’s frankly absurd admission on Monday that the asylum system is “broken” – conveniently forgetting, as Tories often do, who has been in power for the last 12 years. “Who broke it?” The Labour leader demanded. Rishi Sunak responded by saying the Tories had delivered Brexit and ended free movement and highlighted Starmer’s opposition to Brexit.

“No one wants open borders on this side of the House,” Starmer said, before accusing Sunak of having “lost control of the borders”. He argued that the Prime Minister was attempting to “pass the blame” for the failures of the UK’s asylum system, asking: “How can it be anyone’s fault but theirs?” Sunak claimed that Labour does not have a plan for immigration while opposing “every single measure” put forward by the government, including its Rwanda scheme. “You can’t attack a plan if you don’t have a plan,” the Prime Minister told MPs. Starmer simply argued that the plan hasn’t worked, even on its own terms, pointing out nobody has yet been deported under the Rwanda agreement despite huge costs to the taxpayer. “It’s not working, is it?” he said. “He hasn’t got a grip.”

Starmer extended his argument that the system is just not working under the Tories, turning next to the rate at which the Home Office processes asylum seekers. Asked how many claims have been processed for people who arrived last year, the Prime Minister reluctantly gave the vague answer: “Not enough.” Starmer told parliament that it was just 4%, adding: “According to the bookies, the Home Secretary has a better chance of becoming the next Tory leader than she has of processing an asylum claim in a year.” On the disgraceful conditions reported at the Manston migrant processing centre, Starmer demanded a yes/no answer from Sunak on whether Braverman had received legal advice that people should be moved out of the facility. When Sunak failed to answer the question, Starmer helped him out, telling the Commons he thinks the answer is yes but Sunak “hasn’t got the guts to say it”. He called on the Prime Minister to “get a proper Home Secretary”, concluding: “Start governing for once and get a grip.”

Starmer had plenty of ammunition this afternoon: not just the Braverman row and Home Office chaos, but also the potential for a second round of austerity after 12 years of Tory rule. Immigration and the economy provide two ready topics with which Labour can attack the Prime Minister. But these particular subjects also hold obvious potential pitfalls for the opposition – and have historically been used against them by the Conservatives. Starmer avoided falling into any of Sunak’s traps on immigration today or exposing any of the internal debates within his own party on the subject. Instead, he outlined the hypocrisy of the government’s claims to be defending the UK’s borders, setting out the Tories’ failures on the asylum system for all to see.

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