PM’s claim about Labour’s migrants plan based on inaccurate Conservative analysis

1 December 2023
What was claimed

Labour’s plan for immigration is a secret backroom deal with the EU that would see an additional 100,000 migrants arrive in the UK every year.

Our verdict

The way the Conservatives have calculated this number is incorrect. We don't yet know the details of Labour's future policy, so there is no reliable way of knowing the number of migrants it would involve.

“All we've heard up until this moment from the honourable gentleman on this topic is a secret backroom deal with the EU that would see an additional 100,000 migrants here every year.”

At Prime Minister’s Questions this week, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appeared to suggest that the Labour party was either planning or had arranged “a secret backroom deal with the EU” that would see “an additional 100,000 migrants” arrive in the UK every year.

The way the Conservatives have calculated this number is incorrect. We don't yet know the details of Labour's future policy on migrant relocation, so there is no reliable way of knowing the number of migrants it would involve.

The claim first emerged after Mr Starmer told The Times in September that he would ultimately seek to agree “an EU-wide returns agreement” for migrants were Labour to enter government.

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

Labour has said that it would not join the EU agreement on which the Conservatives’ calculation is based, or any EU quota scheme, however.

The Labour party has previously rejected the Conservative party’s 100,000 figure, with Mr Starmer describing it as “complete garbage”.

We’ve seen Conservative ministers and MPs making versions of this claim on at least 10 previous occasions, and have also previously written to the Prime Minister about the “100,000 migrants” estimate, asking him to take steps to prevent the claim being repeated by Conservative party members. We have not received a response. 

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

Spreading misinformation about political opponents is damaging to our democracy, and ministers should not initiate or contribute to the spread of misleading claims, including about other political parties. 

Ministers should correct false or misleading claims made in Parliament in keeping with the Ministerial Code “at the earliest opportunity”. We’ve contacted Number 10 for comment and will update this article if we receive a response.

Honesty in public debate matters

You can help us take action – and get our regular free email

Conservative party analysis ‘incorrect’

When this figure first emerged in September, the Conservative party told Full Fact it was based on analysis of a new agreement established by the EU in June for the relocation of asylum seekers, aimed at easing the pressure on member states receiving disproportionately large numbers of asylum seekers, like Italy and Greece.

The Conservative analysis assumed that under Labour the UK would be 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 party 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 is not correct.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, told Full Fact: “The claim that a returns deal with the EU would mean the UK accepting 100,000 asylum seekers from Europe is incorrect: there are no two ways about it. 

“The EU does not have a policy of equalising the number of asylum applicants across countries, nor is it negotiating one. Even if it did, the number of asylum seekers the UK would receive would be much lower. 

“The 100,000 claim includes a mathematical error, because its authors have forgotten to include the asylum seekers the UK already receives.”

Why is the analysis wrong?

The Conservative party has 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, so it’s not clear how this would work, and Labour has since explicitly denied it would join an EU quota scheme.

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

Perhaps most obviously, it assumes 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.

The Conservative analysis also 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 migrant they choose not to accept—so it will not be mandatory for a country to accept any asylum seekers.

As Ms Sumption notes, the analysis 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.

So even if the UK were to join a hypothetical deal which proportionately shared out all asylum seekers in the EU across the bloc—to be clear, no such deal exists—it would still not be the case that the UK would be required to take an “additional 100,000 migrants” as Mr Sunak claimed.

Image courtesy of Number 10

We deserve better than bad information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted Rishi Sunak to request a correction regarding this claim. We also contacted Lee Anderson, Brendan Clarke-Smith, Jonathan Gullis, Robin Millar, Richard Holden and the Express to request a correction after they all repeated versions of the claim.

We are waiting to hear back from them.

It’s not good enough.

Will you add your name for better standards in public debate?

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.