Immigration debate

The Final Immigration Debate: key takeaways

The election date of July 4 is rapidly approaching. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer had their fourth and final debate of the election campaign on June 26 on the BBC. Last week’s final debate provided Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer will their final chance to win over the electorate on their immigration policies on the big stage.

One day before Sunak and Starmer’s final leadership debate, Home Secretary James Cleverly and Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper went head to head on LBC Radio on June 25 to discuss their opposing parties’ immigration policies. Cleverly and Cooper were questioned by LBC Radio host Nick Ferrari and faced questions from callers.

In this article, we provide a snapshot of both the leadership debate and the Home Secretaries’ debate on immigration.

The Leadership Debate:

What did Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer have to say about immigration policy during their final debate?

Illegal migration

Sunak and Starmer faced one question about illegal migration during the final debate, here is what they had to say:

Rishi Sunak: “It is completely unfair. When people come here and jump the queue it is unfair. It is an affront to a sense of security and an affront to a sense of fairness. It puts pressure on public services. We have made progress on stopping the boats. The numbers have come down over the past couple of months. However, in order to fully solve this problem, you need a deterrent. We need to make it crystal clear that if people come to this country illegally, they won’t be able to stay. If I am your Prime Minister on July 5, flights will go to Rwanda, we will build that deterrent that multiple other European countries have backed and that is how we solve that problem. The Rwanda plan is a deterrent.”

Kier Starmer: ” Illegal migration reached a record high of 50,000 since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister. The Conservative government has lost control. It is not just a border control issue, it’s a national security issue. We do not know the backgrounds of these people. I am a firm believer that nobody should cross the Channel. We have to smash the gangs that run these vile trades. Gangs make a fortune putting people into boats. I believe that it can be done.”

What have Rishi Sunak and the Conservative Party’s key immigration points been throughout the election campaign?


Rwanda is a huge priority for the current Prime Minister and his party prior to and throughout this election campaign. Sunak reaffirmed his commitment to the UK-Rwanda Scheme as core method to reduce net migration.

According to Sunak, the government have already begun detaining people and the first set of flights have been booked for July 25, three week after the election date. Sunak stated that the UK-Rwanda scheme is about “establishing a deterrent” so that “if people arrive in the country illegally, they should not be able to stay but there should be somewhere safe to send them.” The UK-Rwanda Scheme is integral to the Conservative’s pledge to ‘stop the small boats’ from crossing the Channel.

Reducing net migration

The Conservative’s have also pledged to reduce net migration and have implemented a series of measures such as the 5 Point Plan laid out by Home Secretary James Cleverly. Under the 5 Point Plan all of the main visa categories have been restricted; the Health and Care Worker visa, the Skilled Worker visa, the Spouse visa and the Graduate visa. This is part of an effort to cut net migration figures to the UK. If the Conservative Party are elected on July 4, they will continue to implement further measures in order to reduce net migration to the U.K.

What have Keir Starmer and the Labour Party’s key immigration points been throughout the election campaign?

Scrapping Rwanda

Starmer has been clear that although he believes that net migration is too high, Labour will scrap the Rwanda Scheme immediately if elected on July 4. The Labour Party described the UK-Rwanda Scheme as a desperate costly gimmick that “…has already cost hundreds of millions of pounds.” “Even if it got off the ground, it can only address fewer than 1% of asylum seekers arriving. It cannot work.”

Border control and “stopping the gangs”

Rather than sending migrants abroad to Rwanda, Labour have pledged to focus their efforts on going after the criminal gangs who “trade in driving the crisis”. They plan to do so by creating a new Border Security Command. This will be funded by ending the Migration and Economic Partnership with Rwanda. In addition, Labour will set up a brand new returns and enforcement unit which will fast-track removals to safe countries for people who do not have the right to stay in the UK.

The Home Secretaries’ Debate:

The day prior to Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer’s final leadership debate, the Home Secretary James Cleverly and the Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper went head to head on LBC Radio (June 27) to discuss their opposing parties’ immigration policy. Cleverly and Cooper were questioned by LBC host Nick Ferrari and faced questions from callers.

Below, we provide a snapshot of the debate and its implications for the future.

What did the Home Secretary and Shadow Home Secretary have to say about immigration?

Yvette Cooper and James Cleverly both echoed the pledges and ethos’ of the leaders of their party.

James Cleverly was questioned first and stated that the Conservative Party are committed to stopping the boats and making sure that legal migration and illegal migration are reduced.

Yvette Cooper, Labour shadow Home Secretary stated that she feels that illegal migration under the Conservatives, more specifically Rishi Sunak, has undermined UK border security. She also feels that Conservative immigration policy has not alleviated labour skill shortages.

Small boats

Host: “Since Sunak became Prime Minister, there have been 50,000 arrivals despite the fact that he pledged to stop the boats. This is a classic case of failure isn’t it?”

Cleverley: “Small boat crossings are an international phenomenon. In terms of asylum applications per capita, the UK is about 20th in Europe.”

Cooper: “Labour supports proper restrictions on visas and believes that immigration has to be controlled. Labours new border force will be a proper overarching border security strategy and command because border security is too fragmented. Labour would have up to 1000 additional border police and intelligence and security officers and new counter terrorism powers.”

Caller Question: What are you going to do to decrease net migration?

Cooper: “Net migration has trebled since the last election. A big driver is a large increase in overseas recruitment. Work visas have doubled because the Conservatives have failed to tackle skills shortages we are facing. The system has to be controlled and managed. Labour will reduce net migration and continue with restrictions on visas and controls. Labour will have new requirements for skills shortages.”

“Engineering visas have doubled and engineering apprenticeships have halved. This is something Labour will link to visa control to boost the domestic workforce and reduce net migration. We wont set a net migration target because every time the Tories have done that its failed. They have discredited it.”

Cleverly: “I introduced the 5 Point Plan and every single measure was criticised and opposed by Labour, the measures that I have already taken will reduce core visa category eligibility by about 300,000. This will in turn reduce net migration figures.”

Caller Question: Would you reverse the restrictions on Spouse visas?

Cooper: “We will continue on the changes that have been made already and we feel that any further changes need to be reviewed by the migration committee. We have supported the increase. We have supported continuations on the skilled visa.”

It seems highly likely that if elected, Labour will continue the changes made under Cleverley’s ‘5 Point Plan’. As such. Labour may continue with the Spouse visa restrictions in the hopes of delivering on their election promise to reduce net migration.

Caller Question: What do your parties plan to do about unprocessed migrants?

Cleverly: “The Rwanda Scheme is essential to ensuring that there is a deterrent so that people do not come and stay. We’ve made it clear that we will return people to their country of origin if it is safe to do so. If not, we will send them to Rwanda, a safe third country.”

Cooper: “We want to reduce the Tories’ backlog as soon as we can so that we do not have to use Hotels such as Biby Stockholm. We need to prevent boats from arriving in the first place and that means smashing gangs with a new border security command.”

Cleverly: “Taking Rwanda off of the table will make it impossible to deal with these claims. An extra 1000 people will not magically make this go away.”

Cooper: “Cross border police and investigators on a much bigger scale as part of a proper strategy to stop the criminal gangs. We need counter terror powers so that we can have much faster checks and seizures.”

Host: Labour is against the Rwanda Scheme. Would you look at the use of a third country?

Cooper: “The Tories have been running the Rwanda Scheme for 2 and a half years and so far they’ve sent 2 volunteers and have sent £300 million to Rwanda. Labour believes that we should work with other countries. We will look at anything that works and are open to partnerships but what we won’t do is send £300 million to Rwanda for a scheme that does not work.”

Starmer has previously stated that he believes in the vitality of safe routes such as those that the UK has with Ukraine and Afghanistan. Rather than continuing the Conservatives’ controversial UK-Rwanda scheme, Labour plans to increase the number of safe countries that refused asylum seekers be sent to and to strengthen support for refugees in their home regions.

By Mya Alghali

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