UK Politics

Labour plans £10 charge to fund 1,000 extra border staff

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Media captionYvette Cooper: "The next Labour government will introduce exit checks so we can count people in and out"

A Labour government would recruit an extra 1,000 UK border guards, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has said.

The party would fund the staff with a charge for visitors from the United States and 55 other countries with a visa waiver agreement with the UK.

"It isn't racist to be worried about immigration or to call for immigration reform," she said.

The Conservatives said the plans would only fund 59 new jobs. UKIP said Labour had "lost credibility" on immigration.

Labour said the proposed charge would more than cover the £45m cost of the additional border guards.

Faster process?

Under the plans, nationals in countries with a "visa waiver" system of fast-track permission to enter the UK would be charged about £10 per visit.

By charging for the service, Labour said it would replicate the system used by the US and would not put people off visiting Britain.

The party estimates about 5.5 million travellers a year would have to pay the new fee - many from the US, Australia and Canada.

Labour says the extra staff would also increase the speed of passport checks and "improve visitors' experience".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Waiver agreements allow people to travel between countries without a visa

There are currently between 7,000 and 8,000 frontline UK border staff.

In a speech in central London on Tuesday, Ms Cooper accused the government of having no idea where 50,000 failed asylum seekers were, saying it had failed to sort out the problems in Calais.

"Enforcement has got worse in the last five years," she said. "Under (Home Secretary) Theresa May, basic checks are just not being done, and that is undermining confidence in the whole system.

"The number of people stopped and turned away at the border has halved. A smaller proportion of people absconding at the border are being found. And we recently discovered 175,000 failed asylum seekers may not be removed because the Department has 'limited resources'."

'Awful cases'

Outlining a five-point plan, Ms Cooper said she wanted to see a stronger enforcement of border controls to build confidence in the system; smarter immigration, so the UK attracts the people it needs; action to tackle the unequal impact immigration has on jobs and wages; fairer rules to make sure migrants contribute and an honest debate challenging the politics of division.

The shadow home secretary pointed to a "serious and growing problem" of immigrants trying to get to the UK from Calais, including "awful cases of young men camping by the roadside, then leaping onto the wheel arches of passing lorries, only to be crushed and killed".

She said former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major was right to say being part of Europe was "immensely important for Britain's future and we must stay in Europe".

She said there should be "fair movement" of people within the EU, saying that Labour would call for an EU Migration Impact Fund within the existing EU Budget to provide direct help to those regions that have seen a population rise because of immigration, to pay for increased school places, extra medical staff or housing investment.

Conceding her party should have done more in the past to address the impact immigration had on low skilled jobs, Ms Cooper insisted the next Labour government would re-introduce exit controls to count people in and out of the country, and would bring back finger-printing of migrants. "We'll work with other European countries to tackle the problems at Calais," she said.

'Disastrous policy'

Labour wants to convert all visa waiver arrangements to the electronic version introduced this year for passport holders from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman for visa-free stays of up to six months.

The Conservatives said this meant the system would cost more to operate than it recovered in fees.

Home Secretary Theresa May said: "Even before Yvette Cooper's speech, this announcement has unravelled completely.

"Labour are pretending they can hire 1,000 more immigration staff when their funding model would raise enough money for only 59 new staff members. And as their secret spending review contains plans to cut the Home Office budget, they are being especially dishonest.

"And what's more, by relaxing the government's immigration reforms, Labour would take Britain backwards and risk a surge in both legal and illegal immigration.

"This disastrous policy launch shows Labour aren't remotely ready for the responsibility of government."

Labour has promised a new immigration bill within months if it wins next May's election.

The success of the UK Independence Party has increased the pressure on the other parties over the issue, and Labour only narrowly defeated Nigel Farage's party at the recent Heywood and Middleton by-election.

'Arms race rhetoric'

Last week Labour leader Ed Miliband promised not to try to "out-UKIP UKIP", but called for a debate on where the party stood.

Ms Cooper attacked what she calls the "arms race of rhetoric" from the other parties over immigration and criticised those who "dismiss people's genuine concerns".

"Both sides shout at each other. Neither are right. And most people don't agree with either of them," she added.

But Steven Woolfe, UKIP spokesman on migration, dismissed Labour's plans as "a ploy to try and claw back credibility on immigration". He said they showed the party had "no clue with regard to Britain's borders".

"Charging people from friendly and Commonwealth countries to enter the UK on visa waivers is plain discriminatory when we have no such ability to do the same with EU member states," he said.

"It also shows what they believe in: further entrenching us in a shrinking Eurozone while sticking two fingers up at the prosperous globe."

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