The most outlandish political joke of the moment is the idea that the Labour party believes in strong border controls. Keir Starmer gave it a run out in PMQs yesterday, berating Boris Johnson by observing:
'Our borders have been wide open pretty much throughout the pandemic.'
Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs select committee, has also been unleashing her trademark owlish looks of disapproval at ministers over an alleged lack of stringency in Covid-related immigration measures. During the Queen’s Speech debate she complained:
'For months on end there were no public health border measures in place at all.'
Labour presumably hopes that to be seen outflanking the Tories on the right on immigration, albeit on the narrow and short-term issue of the Covid threat, will go down well among lost red wall voters.
But the truth is that it’s all an act. In fact, the latest idea to take hold among senior Labour politicians is the idea that immigration law should not be applied against people with no legal right to be in the UK. Take shadow cabinet member Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, who this week criticised the police for taking part in a joint operation with immigration enforcement officers in her Tooting constituency.
'Today in Tooting, a Met Police Team were stopping fast food delivery drivers and checking immigration status under the guise of ‘Covid compliance’,' she complained, adding: 'Covid compliance is crucial to stop the spread, but it doesn’t explain why Immigration Enforcement were in attendance.'
In subsequent tweets she went much further, saying:
'I certainly disagree with police time being used to prop-up the Home Office’s hostile environment policies…This looks like racial profiling and I am concerned that under the Equalities Act 2010, this may amount to indirect discrimination due to its disproportionate impact on ethnic minority groups. If it’s not unlawful, then it’s definitely immoral and I cannot defend it.'
The implication is clear: that immigration officers should not be seeking out illegal immigrants in pro-active operations and that the police should not be assisting them. In other words, immigration law should not be properly enforced. The frontbencher appears not to have been chastised or contradicted by Starmer for taking this position, which we must therefore assume is de facto Labour policy.
Lest you think this a one-off, let’s go back another week to an immigration removals operation that occurred in Glasgow, but ended up being aborted.
Two Indian nationals were detained by immigration officers, accompanied by police to ensure good order, in the Pollokshields district. But a large crowd of protesters surrounded the immigration enforcement van, preventing it from taking the detainees away. Police Scotland then ordered the release of the men after conducting a 'suitable risk assessment' about the stand-off.
Rather than complaining about the police failure to allow immigration officials to do their job enforcing the law, left-wing Scottish politicians launched into furious denunciations of the attempted enforcement operation.
Nicola Sturgeon said she was 'deeply concerned by this action by the Home Office, especially today in the heart of a community celebrating Eid. My office is making urgent enquiries and stands ready to offer any necessary assistance to those detained'.
Labour’s leader in Scotland, Anas Sarwar, was even more condemnatory, saying he was 'disgusted by the Home Office raids'.
'It is particularly unacceptable that this is happening during a pandemic, in an area that has a spike in cases and on the day of Eid,' he tweeted, thus advancing the notion that immigration law should not be enforced during religious festivals.
In fact, it was the left-wing protestors who were creating a public health risk by congregating, not the immigration officers who were merely seeking to process legally two people they believed had no right to be in the UK. It was later reported that neither of the two Indian nationals involved was thought to be Muslim anyway. One, named as a Lakhvir Singh, later told ITV that being released gave him the 'happiest feeling' and his message to the protesters was 'thank you very, very much'.
So there we have it. Two very senior Labour politicians actively and publicly condemning immigration enforcement officers for attempting to enforce immigration law in Glasgow and London and not a word of criticism of either from Keir Starmer. The contrast with the Tories and Priti Patel, who was pictured today joining police in an operation against people-smuggling gangs could not be clearer.
This is Labour’s authentic disposition on immigration issues and voters out in the red wall and elsewhere are savvy enough to know it. For Starmer and Cooper to pose as immigration control hawks when their senior colleagues oppose the enforcement of such controls anyway is utterly pathetic.