Lee Anderson claim about Labour migrants ‘deal’ appears to be based on unreliable Conservative party estimate

7 November 2023
What was claimed

Sir Keir Starmer has “cooked up” a deal with the EU to give “hundreds of thousands” of migrants a “golden ticket” to come to the UK.

Our verdict

Mr Anderson hasn’t given any evidence to support this claim, but it seems likely to be based on an unreliable Conservative party estimate of how many migrants the UK might have to accept were it to join an EU relocation agreement. Mr Starmer has said he would seek a returns deal with the EU, but Labour has not said how many migrants it would accept, and has denied it would join an EU quota scheme.

“Slippery Starmer’s only solution is a dodgy deal he’s cooked up with the EU to give hundreds of thousands of migrants a golden ticket straight to our shores.”

In quotes published in the Daily Express on 31 October, Conservative party deputy chair Lee Anderson MP claimed that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has “cooked up” a deal with the EU to “give hundreds of thousands of migrants a golden ticket straight to our shores”.

We’ve contacted Mr Anderson to ask what this claim is based on, and have not received a response. However it appears likely the “hundreds of thousands of migrants” figure is based on a Conservative party estimate that the UK would have to accept “over 100,000” migrants a year under Labour’s immigration plans. 

Versions of this claim have been made by several Conservative ministers and MPs in recent weeks, after Mr Starmer told The Times in September that he would ultimately seek to agree a “returns agreement” for migrants with the EU were Labour to enter government.

Labour has not said what this deal might involve, and has not said how many migrants it would accept from the EU under any such deal.

We looked at the calculation behind the Conservative party estimate back in September, and found it to be unreliable. Labour has also said that it would not join the EU agreement on which the Conservatives’ calculation is based, or any EU quota scheme, so it’s unclear on what basis Mr Anderson was suggesting that Mr Starmer has “cooked up” a deal with the EU.

Misleading claims about politicians or political parties have the potential to affect people’s opinions of individuals and parties and how they choose to vote. Politicians should therefore ensure claims they make about other parties are accurate and based on reliable information. 

We’ve previously written to the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Conservative party chair Greg Hands about the Conservative party’s “100,000 migrants” estimate, and asked them to take steps to prevent the claim being repeated by party members. We have not received a response. 

Over 2,700 Full Fact supporters also wrote directly to Mr Sunak last month asking him to stop making claims which are not supported by reliable evidence. 

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Would a returns deal mean accepting ‘hundreds of thousands’ of migrants?

When we looked at the similar claims from other Conservative politicians back in September, the Conservative party told Full Fact its estimate was based on a new agreement established by the EU in June this year for the relocation of asylum seekers, in an effort to ease the pressure on member states receiving large numbers of asylum seekers, like Italy and Greece.

The Conservative analysis assumed that Labour’s “deal” would see the UK required to take a share of the EU’s migrant quota under the terms of this new agreement, or “solidarity mechanism”, which will see member states asked to accept a number of asylum seekers each year proportionate to their population and economic size.

The Conservatives said that because the UK’s population of approximately 67 million accounts for 12.9% of the combined population of the EU and the UK, Labour’s approach would have meant in 2022 the UK would have accepted a “mandatory fair share” of 12.9% of the 966,000 asylum applications registered in 2022, or “124,614 illegal migrants”.

However this analysis was not reliable because it made a number of assumptions.

Most obviously, it assumed a returns agreement negotiated between the UK and EU by a future Labour government would involve the UK participating in the relocation scheme currently being drawn up between EU member states. The UK is no longer in the EU, and Labour has since explicitly denied it would join an EU quota scheme.

Even if the UK were to participate in the EU scheme, or one operating on a similar basis, the Conservative calculation appeared to misinterpret what the agreement established in June would involve. 

The EU agreement

The Conservative analysis assumed the EU solidarity mechanism would see all asylum seekers arriving in the EU relocated across the bloc, even though this is not what the EU’s new agreement indicates.

An EU official told Full Fact in September that the agreement will see a minimum of 30,000 people relocated from member states where most asylum seekers enter the EU to ones that are “less exposed”.

They confirmed this is the minimum number of asylum seekers to be relocated across the EU as a whole each year, not the minimum number each country is expected to accept.

The EU says the 30,000 minimum could increase in the future and will be regularly reviewed, and the agreement explicitly states “the Commission may identify a higher number for relocations” if required—so it’s possible more than 30,000 migrants may be relocated across the EU each year. But as things stand the current minimum figure quoted in the plans suggests only a small proportion of asylum seekers arriving in the EU will be relocated.

Further, the Conservative analysis failed to acknowledge that under the EU’s solidarity mechanism member countries will be able to choose between accepting relocations or making a financial contribution of €20,000 per relocation they choose not to accept—so it will not be mandatory for a country to accept any asylum seekers.

It also did not account for the number of migrants who already arrive and claim asylum in the UK, and how they might affect the estimate of the number of migrants the UK would be asked to accept were it to participate in the EU’s relocation agreement. In 2022 the UK received approximately 75,000 asylum applications.

Image courtesy of David Woolfall

We deserve better than bad information.

After publishing this fact check, we wrote to Lee Anderson and asked him not to repeat this claim.

Mr Anderson is yet to respond. 

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