Defending his government's bill on illegal immigration, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday accused the main opposition Labour party's leader of being "another leftie lawyer standing in our way" on immigration.
Sunak and Keir Starmer sparred over immigration at the first Prime Minister's Questions session in parliament after the government on Tuesday announced the new legislation that would allow for the detention and swift removal of anyone who enters the UK illegally.
Accusing the government of losing control of the border, the opposition leader implied that Sunak would not be able to implement the plan and deliver on the promise to stop small boats from reaching British shores.
In response, Sunak asserted they would be implementing the plan as soon as they could pass it through parliament and criticized Starmer of being "on the wrong side of this issue his entire career."
"He described all immigration law as racist. He said it was a mistake to control immigration and he has never ever voted for tougher asylum law," said the premier, adding: "Stopping the boats is not just my priority, it is the people's priority."
On Tuesday the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) voiced concern about the matter, saying that if it was passed, the UK asylum legislation would "amount to an asylum ban."
Sunak went on to note previous immigration measures that Starmer had opposed, including a deal to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.
"We know why. On this matter — he talks about his legal background — he's just another leftie lawyer standing in our way," said Sunak.
Pressing the prime minister, Starmer pointed to previous pledges to stop illegal crossings of English Channel and said that although the government promised to stop using hotels for housing asylum seekers, there were thousands who could neither claim asylum nor be returned.
Asylum system 'utterly broken'
Sunak responded to Starmer by saying that Labour "have absolutely no plan on this issue because they simply don't want to tackle the problem."
"We introduced tougher sentences for people smugglers, they opposed it. We signed a deal with Rwanda, they opposed it. We are deporting foreign offenders as we speak, they oppose it," he added.
He also added that the government already had return agreements with several countries like India, Pakistan, Serbia, and Nigeria, while another deal with Albania was allowing the UK to return "hundreds of people."
Starmer however, insisted that the government failed on the issue and said that after 13 years of Conservative rule, small boat crossings were higher than ever.
He went on to say that taxpayers continued to pay for hotel rooms, amid "criminals running all the way laughing to the bank, and an asylum system utterly broken on his watch."
"This is their fifth prime minister, the sixth immigration plan, the seventh home secretary. And after all this time, all they offer is the same old gimmicks and empty promises."
Meanwhile, Stephen Flynn, the Scottish National Party's Westminster leader, said the new bill failed to protect women who had been sex trafficked to Britain.
After the bill's introduction on Tuesday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman gave a statement to parliament on the legislation and pointed to deterrence as the key theme of the new measures. Developed countries like the UK will face "unprecedented pressures" in the coming periods from illegal immigration, she said.
According to the government, the new bill would ensure that those who come to the UK illegally, would be unable claim asylum, benefit from modern slavery protections, make "spurious" human rights claims, or stay in the UK.