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Labour Rejects "Misinformation" Amid Backlash Over Keir Starmer's Bangladesh Comments

Keir Starmer (Credit: Sipa US/Alamy Live News)

3 min read

Labour has described a clip of Keir Starmer talking about the removal of Bangladeshi migrants from the UK as "misinformation", amid concern among party insiders that the video has been widely shared among Bangladeshi voters.

In an interview with The Sun this week, Starmer said: "At the moment people coming from countries like Bangladesh are not being removed because they’re not being processed."

He was being asked about Labour's rejection of the Conservative Government policy of deporting to Rwanda migrants who arrive in the UK illegally in small boats.

"The number of people being returned to where they came from has dropped off by 44 per cent under this government. So on the first few days of government, I’ll tell you what I do, I’ll put the staff back in the returns unit, I’ll make sure I’ve got planes going off, not to Rwanda because that’s an expensive gimmick," the Labour leader said.

Asked where the migrants would go, Starmer replied: "They will go back to the countries where people come from. That’s what used to happen." He then raised the example of Bangladeshi migrants.

A clip of the interaction, seen by PoliticsHome, has been distributed on WhatsApp groups. It shows Starmer talking of "people coming from countries like Bangladesh" but he does not specify explicitly that he is referring to people without permission to settle in the UK.

At the end of the video, a message reads: "Don't vote for Labour on 4 July. Vote for Independent candidates."

A Labour spokesperson said: "Keir has proudly supported the Bangladeshi community across the UK, who make an enormous contribution to our country.

"This clip has been edited to make it look as though Keir Starmer is suggesting repatriation of British Bangladeshis. It is misinformation.

"In fact, Keir is referring to Labour's long established policy of returning those who don't have the legal right to be in the UK to safe countries. Bangladesh was only used as an example, as there is already a bilateral agreement between the two countries."

In May the Government signed a new agreement with Bangladesh "to speed up the removal of migrants with no right to be in the country" by removing a mandatory interview in cases "where there is good supporting evidence for removal".

Labour insiders have told PoliticsHome that Starmer's comments have "gone down like a lead balloon" and "caused major problems", however, and that the "community backlash has been severe".

Apsana Begum, the Labour candidate standing for re-election in Poplar and Limehouse, tweeted a video of herself – in English and in Sylheti – criticising politicians using "dog-whistle racism against Bangladeshis".

Paula Barker, who is re-standing to be the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, tweeted: "Bangladeshis do not come here illegally. Their contribution to our national life and our community here in Liverpool is immeasurable. I will always stand with them now and always".

A Labour activist from a constituency with a large Bangladeshi community agreed that the backlash has been significant. "It's really cut through," they told PoliticsHome.

Mish Rahman, a left-wing member of Labour's National Executive Committee, tweeted: "He can't help himself, he's being intentionally offensive and this is going to cost him historically loyal Bangladeshi votes."

The Labour NEC member told PoliticsHome: "Our communities will not tolerate this attitude that the potential new prime minister has shown that when it comes to dealing with ethnic minority communities that despite offering Change – behaviour towards ethnic minorities under a Labour government will not change. 

"Instead the same ham-fisted yet vicious approach that has been consistent since the hostile environment started under Tony Blair (Hodge Hill by-election) will continue. Many in these communities are as a result being pushed towards Independents and Greens.

"What makes this worse is that this is happening at a time when the far right are gaining prominence throughout Europe and the US following the scapegoating of migrants and Starmer has joined in with that scapegoating."

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