UK

Labour would not spend foreign aid budget on asylum hotels – Starmer

The Home Office took £3 billion of the foreign aid budget last year as it sought to recoup the cost of housing migrants.

A Labour government would not use the foreign aid budget to pay for asylum seekers’ hotel costs, Sir Keir Starmer has said, although he cautioned this would not be immediate.

The Labour leader criticised the use of hotels to house asylum seekers waiting for their claims to be processed as “the definition of the ill use of taxpayers’ money” and vowed to “turn that around”.

But, he added, “we can’t clear the hotels in 24 hours, that’s not realistic”.

The immigration debate has been dominated by concern over the number of migrants crossing the Channel and the backlog of asylum seekers waiting for their claims to be considered while they are typically housed in hotels, which costs the taxpayer millions of pounds a day.

Sir Keir Starmer vowed not to spend the foreign aid budget on asylum hotel costs
Sir Keir Starmer vowed not to spend the foreign aid budget on asylum hotel costs (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Home Office spent about £8 million a day last year for tens of thousands of asylum seekers to be put up in hotels while the introduction of alternative housing plans faced a series of setbacks.

It comes amid criticism of the amount of overseas aid funding diverted to support refugees in the UK, with the Home Office accused of conducting “raids” on the budget and thereby reducing the amount that can be spent on developing countries.

Housing asylum seekers and refugees in the UK in 2023 amounted to more than a quarter of the UK’s total aid budget for the second year running, the latest figures, published in April, showed.

Asked whether he pledged not to spend the foreign aid budget on domestic asylum costs, Sir Keir on Thursday told reporters at a campaign event in Wales: “Absolutely.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy called the Tories’ Rwanda scheme a ‘shameless gimmick’
Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy called the Tories’ Rwanda scheme a ‘shameless gimmick’ (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

“If we were to carry on with this Government, we would have the best part of 100,000 asylum seekers in this country, none of whom are being processed.

“That means none of them can be returned, because until you’re processed, you can’t be returned – even if you’ve got no right to be here – (and meanwhile they are) being housed in hotels at the taxpayer’s expense.

“I don’t think that’s right. And yes, we want to turn that around.”

But, he added, “I’m not going to pretend to you that we can do that in the first 24 hours”.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said the money for asylum hotels is being taken away from the foreign aid budget, which he said would help prevent migrants from making the journey in the first place.

In a speech at the Abergavenny event, Mr Lammy said: “The numbers of people crossing the Channel in small boats has surged under the Tories, whilst tens of thousands remain in asylum hotels permanently in limbo, with no prospect of removal due to the Government’s failed Illegal Migration Bill.

“And this not only causes disorder across our country, but as shadow foreign secretary, I’ve seen it from the other side.

“It takes more than £3 billion off of our overseas aid budget, which would stop them coming in the first place.

“The Rwanda scheme that government has put forward is nothing more than a shameless gimmick.”