Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has denied that a Labour government would formally join an EU quota system to accept a certain number of asylum seekers from the bloc under a future returns agreement.
Both Sir Keir and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak are pursuing a bespoke returns agreement with the EU, that would allow the UK to send asylum seekers who cross the Channel back to to Europe.
Questions have been raised, however, about whether the UK would be required to join the EU’s existing quota system, which would require it to take thousands of asylum seekers in exchange for returning arrivals.
The bloc is currently working on a new returns agreement that would require member states to take in a minimum of 30,000 migrants a year, or pay €20,000 (£17,200) for each migrant they do not accept.
Downing Street has insisted the Prime Minister would “never be open” to burden sharing or quotas.
Labour has refused to be drawn on how many migrants it would agree to take under a deal with the UK, but the Government has claimed that Labour’s plans would see 100,000 EU migrants a year arriving in the UK.
Speaking to the Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips programme on Sky News, Sir Keir said it was “complete garbage” that the UK would take in such numbers, and denied he would seek to join the EU’s quota scheme.
He said that the UK “will not be part of that” as the country is no longer an EU member, adding: “You don’t need a formal returns agreement. I’m not going to pretend that a returns agreement with those third countries [such as Albania and India] isn’t helpful. Of course it is. And we would seek to strike them.
“There’s then the secondary question, which is could this somehow be a returns agreement into Europe? Let me be absolutely crystal clear about this, because the government has been pumping out complete garbage this week in terms of the numbers that they are suggesting.”
He added that the EU returns scheme “isn’t really working very well” and that “the idea that we’re going to join the EU scheme on quotas is complete nonsense”.
Labour has previously been unclear about whether it would join the EU scheme, with Shadow Cabinet Office minister Nick Thomas-Symonds suggesting to Sky News earlier this week that Labour would be open to a migrants quota.
“What we are looking to do as an objective is a returns agreement,” he said.
“At the moment, the government is in a position to return people already to particular countries. They are not fast-tracking that situation. They’re not doing that competently.
Mr Thomas-Symonds added: “Our position is that net migration has been too high in the UK and we want to see that coming down. That’s our overall position and that’s something we’d obviously take into any negotiation with the EU.”
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told Times Radio on Saturday that Labour would offer to resettle child refugees in the EU with family in the UK as part of a migrant returns deal with the bloc, and denied that the party would join the quota system.
“We should be looking at an arrangement for children who are in the EU to be able to rejoin family in the UK,” she said.
“We used to have an agreement that did that, that allowed for some returns, but also allowed for children to be able to rejoin family and it prevented them ending up on these dangerous boats in the first place and being exploited by people smugglers or people traffickers.”
She explained that Labour would look to implement a system similar to the Dublin convention, which the UK is no longer part of following Brexit but enabled asylum seekers to be transferred between EU member states on the basis of family reunion.