Home secretary launches new border security squad after scrapping Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda plan

The home secretary has launched a new border security command after Labour scrapped Rishi Sunak’s controversial Rwanda policy.

Yvette Cooper has also ordered a probe into the latest routes and tactics used by people smugglers as her party comes under pressure to deliver on its pledge to “smash the gangs”.

Early legislation is being prepared to introduce new counter-terror style powers against those who bring tens of thousands of people to the UK in small boats every year.

But the new body is still currently without a boss as a recruitment drive gets underway.

Home Secretary Yvette Cooper branded the Rwanda scheme a ‘gimmick’ (PA)
Home Secretary Yvette Cooper branded the Rwanda scheme a ‘gimmick’ (PA)

On Saturday Sir Keir Starmer declared that the Rwanda deportation plan “was dead and buried before it started”, confirming Labour had dumped the scheme less than 24 hours after he entered Downing Street.

The prime minister said the policy was “never a deterrent”, despite Mr Sunak’s claims, pointing to the record number of small boat arrivals in the first six months of 2024.

And he said it had “the complete opposite effect”, with potential migrants encouraged to cross the Channel because they knew there was a very small chance they would be deported.

Mr Sunak had pledged to get the first flights to the African country in the air this month if he won the election.

But he faced a series of legal challenges that could still have grounded those plans.

Ms Cooper said that criminal gangs were “making millions out of small boat crossings, undermining our border security and putting lives at risk”.

She said: “We can’t carry on like this. We need to tackle the root of the problem, going after these dangerous criminals and bringing them to justice.”

The Border Security Command which is set to include MI5, would be a “major step change” in tackling organised immigration crime, she said, “drawing on substantial resource to work across Europe and beyond to disrupt trafficking networks and to coordinate with prosecutors in Europe to deliver justice”.

Tackling the small boats issue will be a challenge for the new prime minister (PA)
Tackling the small boats issue will be a challenge for the new prime minister (PA)

On the campaign trail, the Labour leader promised repeatedly to abolish the £300m scheme, which would have only a small number of asylum seekers sent on a one-way ticket to Rwanda.

In a damning assessment, Sir Keir said: “The Rwanda scheme was dead and buried before it started.

“It has never been a deterrent. Look at the numbers that have come over in the first six and a bit months of this year. They are record numbers. That is the problem that we are inheriting.

“It has never acted as a deterrent, almost the opposite because everybody has worked out, particularly the gangs that run this trade, that the chance of ever going to Rwanda was so slim, less than 1 per cent, that it was never a deterrent.

“The chances were of not going, not being processed and staying here in paid-for accommodation for a very, very long time.

“It has had the complete opposite effect. And I’m not prepared to continue with gimmicks that don’t act as a deterrent.”

Recruitment for an “exceptional” leader used to working at senior levels of policing, intelligence or the military, will begin on Monday and ministers hope the successful candidate will start work within weeks.

The new border security commander will report directly to the home secretary and will bring together expertise from the National Crime Agency, intelligence agencies, police, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force.

Under the plans more investigators, experts and analysts will work, from Monday, to tackle organised immigration crime.

The Home Office said that a significant number of these will be based across Europe, working with Europol and European police forces to disrupt the gang activity.

Ms Cooper is due to speak to other European ministers and with the director general of Europol to discuss strengthening security cooperation next week.