Sir Keir Starmer was accused of trying to “sabotage” plans to stop the small boat migration crisis.
In an extraordinary attack, Home Secretary Suella Braverman claimed the Labour leader used a “web of cronies” to block efforts to end the crossings. She hit out as it was revealed a lawyer advising Sir Keir on the party’s general election manifesto is also a leading figure in a pressure group fighting the Rwanda scheme.
But last night Labour launched an attack of its own, accusing the government of being too slow to deport failed asylum seekers.
The war of words broke out as Rishi Sunak prepared to launch a blitz of measures targeting the criminal gangs luring migrants to make dangerous Channel crossings.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper attempted to outflank the Tories by claiming they had “totally lost any grip on the asylum system” – and pledged to speed up deportations if Labour comes to power. But furious Conservatives accused Sir Keir of using the immigration issue for “political point scoring”, and highlighted connections between Labour and pressure groups attempting to block the Rwanda policy in the courts.
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They pointed to lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie, who is helping Sir Keir draw up his party’s election manifesto. She is a member of
Labour’s Race Equality Taskforce, whose members include Labour chairwoman and shadow Cabinet member Anneliese Dodds.
Ms McKenzie is listed by Companies House as a director of Detention Action, a charitable company that brought a legal challenge against plans to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda. In a statement in April 2022, Detention Action said; “A new legal challenge has been brought this week against Priti Patel’s recently announced plan to send people seeking asylum to Rwanda … the legal case has been brought by charities Detention Action, which supports people in immigration detention in the UK and Care4Calais.”
Detention Action was until recently run by Labour councillor Bella Sankey, who stood down as head after becoming leader of Brighton and Hove council in May 2023.
Labour activists are also involved in Care4Calais, which backed legal action against the Rwanda scheme and also provides aid such as clothes and sleeping bags to would-be migrants camped near the French coast.
Susan Jex, a member of the Care4Calais board and former chair of trustees, is a former Labour candidate who stood for West Sussex County Council in 2021.
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In May 2022 she was part of a group of Sussex woman that delivered supplies to Calais and offered services such as phone -charging to migrants.
The organisation says on its website: “Care4Calais had already been working to stop the unfair Rwanda plan long before it became ‘real’.”
Ms Braverman said: “Sir Keir Starmer is secretly delighted at his web of cronies’ schemes to block our plans to stop the boats. He’s in this for political point scoring and doesn’t care about what’s good for the country or the British people.
“He’s even successfully campaigned to halt this government’s attempts to deport vile foreign criminals including rapists and murderers – a total betrayal of their victims. All so he could attack the government.
“While we are doing everything we can to stop the boats, Starmer and his activist friends are doing their best to sabotage our efforts so they can use it for cynical political gain.”
A spokesperson for the charity said: “There are people of all political parties and none involved with Care4Calais. They are drawn together by a common purpose to support the survivors of war, torture and modern slavery who seek a safe future for them and their families here in the UK.”
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Law firm Doughty Street Chambers, where Keir Starmer was a founding member as a barrister, says “numerous members” of its team have appeared in court to represent groups opposing the Rwanda policy.
A Tory source said: “Labour cronies have been working on multiple fronts to scupper plans to end illegal migration into the UK.”
Labour hit back with claims that it will take 13 years to clear the backlog of asylum seekers awaiting deportation at the current rate. Nearly 40,000 failed asylum cases are still awaiting removal but just 3,000 are being deported each year.
Meanwhile the British taxpayer is having to spend nearly £6 million a day to put up asylum seekers in hotels.
Ms Cooper said: “The Conservatives have totally lost any grip on the asylum system.
“The Tories have completely broken the asylum system – failing to take decisions and failing to return people who have no right to be here.
“Labour would speed up decision-making to end the costly backlog, so those who have fled persecution get proper support, and those who have no right to be in this country are returned.”
She said Labour would speed up deportations by fast-tracking cases for Albania and other countries deemed to be safe.
A senior Tory source said: “Sir Keir Starmer has questions to answer on why he talks tough on migration and yet so many of his allies are involved in trying to thwart the government’s policies to deter migrant boats.”
The average number of migrants crossing the Channel per boat last month was the highest on record, figures show. Some 3,299 people made the journey in July in 63 boats – an average of around 52 migrants per vessel.
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