New UK PM Starmer declares Rwanda migrant plan ‘dead and buried’

New UK PM Starmer declares Rwanda migrant plan ‘dead and buried’

Britain’s Prime Minister Keir Starmer holds a press conference at the end of his cabinet’s first meeting in Downing Street in London on July 6, 2024. — AFP

LONDON: Newly elected UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer on Saturday began his first full day in charge declaring the ousted Tories’ plan to deport migrants to Rwanda “dead and buried” and pledging growth as his government’s “number one mission”.

The Labour leader on Friday won a landslide election victory bringing to a close 14 years of Conservative rule.

He said he was “restless for change” and that his party had received a “mandate to do politics differently”.

Starmer started the day with a first meeting of his cabinet including Britain’s first woman finance minister Rachel Reeves and new foreign minister David Lammy.

“We have a huge amount of work to do, so now we get on with our work,” he told his top team to applause and smiles around the cabinet table.

At a news conference afterwards he said he would not be proceeding with former Conservative prime minister Rishi Sunak’s controversial scheme to tackle rising small boat arrivals on England’s southern coast by deporting migrants to Rwanda.

“The Rwanda scheme was dead and buried before it started… I’m not prepared to continue with gimmicks that don’t act as a deterrent,” he told reporters at his 10 Downing Street office.

‘Driving growth’ 

Starmer spent his first hours in Downing Street on Friday appointing his ministerial team, hours after securing his centre-left party’s return to power with a whopping 174-seat majority in the UK parliament.

Notable lower-ranking appointments included Patrick Vallance, chief scientific government adviser during the Covid-19 pandemic, who has been made a science minister.

James Timpson, whose shoe repair company employs ex-offenders, was also made a prisons minister.

Starmer said both new ministers were people “associated with change” and illustrated his determination to deliver concrete improvements to people’s lives.

Work on “driving growth” had already begun, he said, adding that he had told his ministers “exactly what I expect of them in terms of standards, delivery, and the trust that the country has put in them”.

NATO support ‘unshakable’ 

Flag-waving crowds of cheering Labour activists on Friday welcomed Starmer to Downing Street hours after his victory.

But daunting challenges await his government, including a stagnating economy, creaking public services and households suffering from a years-long cost-of-living crisis.

World leaders lined up to congratulate the new British premier.

Starmer spoke by telephone with US President Joe Biden and “discussed their shared commitment to the special relationship between the UK and US and their aligned ambitions for greater economic growth”, according to London.

He also spoke to President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

However, former — and potentially future — US president Donald Trump ignored Starmer, instead hailing the five-seat electoral breakthrough of his ally Nigel Farage’s far-right Reform UK party.

Starmer will make his debut on the international stage as leader when he flies to Washington next week for a NATO summit.

“It is for me to be absolutely clear that the first duty of my government is security and defence, to make clear our unshakable support of Nato,” he said.

He added that he had reiterated the support of the UK and its allies for Ukraine to Zelensky.

Infighting fears 

The election saw Labour near its record of 418 seats under ex-leader Tony Blair in 1997 by winning 412.

The Conservatives suffered their worst-ever defeat, capturing just 121 constituencies, prompting Sunak to apologise to the nation and confirm that he will resign as Tory leader once arrangements are in place to select a successor.

A record 12 senior ex-government ministers lost their seats, alongside former prime minister Liz Truss, whose economically calamitous short-lived tenure in 2022 wounded the party irreparably ahead of the election.

It is now poised for another period of infighting between a moderate wing eager for a centrist leader and those who may even be willing to court Farage as a new figurehead.

The election also saw the centrist Liberal Democrats make their biggest gains in around a century, claiming more than 70 seats.

But it was a dismal contest for the pro-independence Scottish National Party, which was virtually obliterated in Scotland. It dropped from 48 seats to just nine.

The Green Party had its best general election, quadrupling its MPs count to four.

Meanwhile, an unprecedented six independent lawmakers were elected — four of them defeating Labour candidates in districts with large Muslim populations and campaigns centred around the Israel-Hamas conflict.

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