Media Release

‘Labour’s EU refugee responsibility-sharing plan would give UK better control than the Rwanda plan’

Labour’s approach on Channel crossings could provide a more robust alternative to the government’s Rwanda plan in terms of achieving fair control of refugee flows, but it needs proper responsibility sharing for refugees across Europe to do so, a think tank says today.

In a briefing out today, Jonathan Thomas, SMF Senior Fellow and migration expert, says that Labour’s plans “represent the best opportunity for balancing refugees’ need for protection with states’ and their publics’ priorities and concerns around achieving better control and fairness around such flows.

The Social Market Foundation has said that Labour’s alternative plan for tackling irregular Channel crossings could work, but only if tougher action on gangs and traffickers is accompanied by real, coordinated responsibility sharing for refugees in Europe.

Sir Keir Starmer has said that Labour are looking to ‘get tough’ on people smuggling, but the SMF argues that enforcement alone can only get so far, because it only tackles the supply side of the problem. To tackle the demand side of the problem requires a working system of responsibility sharing across the region to break the link between where a refugee makes their claim and where they are settled if their claim succeeds, the SMF said.

Compared with the Rwanda plan, a broader European responsibility sharing mechanism to which the UK was party would have a number of advantages, as it would:

  • Achieve more certainty and not be subject to the same degree of legal challenge;
  • Align with a concept already enshrined at the European level, and one which Europe is aiming to develop further;
  • Be operationally more practical and cost-effective;
  • Work better at both the scale and on the accelerated timeline that would be required to undermine people smuggling incentives;
  • Achieve a greater degree of public acceptability and support in terms of faith in its outcome delivering control but on a fair basis.


Despite the Home Secretary’s recent criticisms of the Refugee Convention, this approach would be perfectly compatible with the Convention’s existing terms, the SMF highlights. The challenge is therefore primarily a political one – for a UK government to agree with willing European states how to fairly share the responsibility of refugee intakes – and Sir Keir Starmer’s recent statements around the potential for greater regional cooperation suggest this is how he is also viewing this problem.


The SMF sees such an approach as crucial to bolstering and better future proofing the UK’s overall immigration control regime.


Jonathan Thomas, SMF Senior Fellow, said:
“The best solution to irregular migration flows into the UK from the European mainland lies in the UK coming to an agreement with European states, not with Rwanda. This will not be easy, but it is possible.


Indeed, for the UK there is currently a window of opportunity to be a key contributor to the development of a revised refugee responsibility sharing system within Europe, and one that sees the UK bearing its fair share but also gaining important protections in terms of its own potentially significant exposure to refugee flows in the future.


This is the basis on which British politicians and public should support such an approach.



The SMF’s work on the asylum includes:



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