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Labour plans to scrap Channel migrants deportation law in first 100 days in power

Labour is planning to introduce new laws to crack down on the Channel small boats crisis in its first 100 days in government if it wins the election, i has learnt.

The plans are being worked on by Sir Keir Starmer’s “future legislation committee”, led by Shadow Commons Leader Lucy Powell, and Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper as the party prepares a major change in direction on asylum by scrapping the beleaguered Rwanda deportation scheme.

Powell’s committee is looking at what policy promises will need to be put before Parliament in a Labour government’s first King’s Speech, including laws to be introduced in the first 100 days.

The party will not scrap in full a trio of highly controversial Conservative pieces of legislation – the Nationality and Borders Act, Illegal Migration Act and Safety of Rwanda Bill.

But it will act quickly to instead introduce new powers, either through a new small boats Bill or so-called secondary legislation, that will scrap one of the Tories’ most controversial reforms – the duty to deport all Channel asylum seekers.

The Refugee Council has warned that the so-called “duty to remove” and other aspects of the Illegal Migration Act would force 115,575 people into “permanent limbo” by the end of 2024, stranded in the UK and tipping the asylum system into “meltdown”.

The charity said the entire Act must be scrapped to end these damaging effects, rather than only the duty to remove, warning that “tinkeering” will not solve the problem.

However, Labour believes scrapping the duty to remove will be enough to begin to tackle its promise to clear the asylum backlog within a year of recruiting new staff.

The party also does not believe it needs to scrap the Safety of Rwanda Bill because it will simply cancel the policy, making the legislation effectively useless.

Shadow ministers want to use the first 100 days in government to focus on introducing new powers, including on the party’s five-point plan on small boat crossings, rather than spending parliamentary time scrapping Tory Bills.

This will include new powers to “smash the gangs” smuggling people over the Channel by expanding the use of civil orders and counter-terror measures used to tackle terrorists, drug traffickers and other serious criminals.

“We will replace the Tories’ failed plans and bring forward our own legislation,” a Labour source said.

Despite announcing Labour’s five-point plan in November, Starmer has come under sustained Conservative attacks for having “no plan” to tackle the small boats crisis.

Rishi Sunak on Monday said the Opposition “can’t tell you at all what they would do” about the problem as he announced a timeline for his troubled Rwanda deportation plan to become operational, although this has been met with scepticism.

Labour also faced pressure from the Refugee Council to scrap the Illegal Migration Act, which has warned that even if the Government meets an apparent target of deporting 2,000 people to Rwanda in the first six months of the scheme, 115,575 asylum seekers will be left stranded in the UK.

Under the Act, people are banned from applying for asylum as their cases are deemed “inadmissible” and the Home Secretary is under a duty to arrange for their removal. However, the report shows that in reality, only a small proportion are likely to ever be removed to their own country or Rwanda.

The charity’s CEO Enver Solomon said this would lead to “another entirely avoidable system meltdown” with tens of thousands of people in hotels at a cost of billions per year.

“Any Government that wants a fair and efficient asylum system should repeal the legislation, stop wasting resources on futile endeavours and focus on the vital task of processing asylum claims promptly and fairly,” he said.

Asked whether this meant repealing the Act in full, he added: “You need to repeal the entirety of the Act, you can’t just tinker around with bits of it.”

The charity’s policy policy analyst Jon Featonby added: “There are so many bits of the Act that are interwoven, it is quite hard to see how you unpick different bits of it and if the whole purpose is to have a functioning asylum system, you really need to repeal the whole lot.”

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