Labour pledge crackdown on smuggler gangs who made nearly £180m last year – by staff reporter

Labour are planning on a crackdown on criminal people smugglers, who made a over £180 million from small boat crossings last year, according to new analysis.

They plan to set up a new elite National Crime Agency (NCA) unit which will pursue criminal prosecutions and track down and seize the assets of the criminal gangs involved.


These gangs made a staggering £183 million, according to the Labour Party estimate, a hundred-fold increase in profits in the space of three years as the number of people crossing in small boats reached a record high of 45,756 last year.

Labour claim this is a sign of “failure” by the Conservative Government which is says have allowed gangs to take hold and build a criminal industry along the UK border.


Following the money will give enforcement agencies a key to unlock the complex organised criminal networks operating across Europe and the UK – hitting at the heart of the business model for gangs who currently turn a quick profit on risking human life with barely any costs or consequences.


Europol has warned of the increased “professionalisation of the smugglers” and the link between the organised criminal gangs and the wider criminal logistics networks. 


Labour’s NCA unit of more than 100 officers will be a major increase in the number of specialists including more than doubling the number of UK operatives working across Europe on people smuggling. 


The specialist officers will be based both in the UK and on the continent, significantly increasing UK presence in countries including France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Albania. 


They will work with other police forces and Europol to target the gang networks, including following the money trails and the supply of boats including those from China. 


The unit will be charged with substantially increasing prosecutions to disrupt and deter the gangs as well as pursuing their profits by working with international colleagues to freeze bank accounts, and seize assets held by gangs and OCGs based here in the UK (such as the Northern Irish gang facilitating the Grays lorry disaster).


According to French police, the average cost paid by a smuggler across the Channel is £4,000, leading to record income of around £180m from putting over 45,000 lives at risk.


Compared to the 299 people that crossed in 2018, money made from the boats has skyrocketed from just over £1 million four years ago – an increase of over 150 times.


The Proceeds of Crime Act 2004 provides for the confiscation or civil recovery of the proceeds from crime.


Labour has already launched a five-point plan to reform the asylum system:


1. Crack down on the criminal gangs through the NCA and in partnership with France, Belgium and Europol.  

A Labour Government would redirect spending from the unworkable Rwanda scheme, which the government has admitted is subject to a very high risk of fraud, to setting up a new NCA cell to crack down on smuggling gangs. This would include millions of pounds of new investment in the NCA. Officers would be based in the UK and throughout Europe to tackle the gangs upstream. This would be supported with an urgent review to identify the gaps in enforcement against smuggling gangs, with the findings used to lay out an Action Plan to be delivered by the NCA and Border Force, in collaboration with international allies and Europol.


2. Speed up asylum decisions

The Home Office is taking half as many asylum decisions as they were five years ago, leaving people waiting in limbo for much longer and pushing up accommodation costs. Fast tracking cases for Albania and other safe countries, introducing triage and restoring proper casework standards and targets will mean quicker support for those who are refugees, much quicker returns for those who are not, and stopping costly hotel use. 


3. Reform resettlement schemes to better target those most at risk of exploitation by trafficking and smuggler gangs.  

Labour would redesign the existing resettlement schemes which are not currently working properly so that they include a clearer process for refugees with family connections in the UK to be considered for resettlement, preventing them being exploited by criminal gangs or making dangerous journeys.   


4. Replace the Dublin agreement.   

Labour would negotiate a replacement to the Dublin agreement which included safe returns and safe family reunions.   


5. Work internationally to address crises leading people to flee their homes

Labour would work in partnership internationally to address some of the humanitarian crises that are leading people to flee their homes including including restoring the 0.7% aid commitment and strengthening support for the people of Afghanistan, currently the largest group trying to cross the Channel.


Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, said: “The Conservatives have allowed an entire multi-million-pound dangerous criminal industry to grow up along our border in the space of just three years. Criminals are making big money from putting tens of thousands of lives at risk and making a mockery of UK border security. Shockingly the Government has allowed the gangs to proliferate and their profits to soar. These criminal smuggling and trafficking gangs cannot be allowed to get away with this.


“That is why Labour’s plan hits hard at the heart of the criminal gangs, going after their whole network including the money in order to increase prosecutions and stop their dangerous trade in people’s lives. Labour will fund a new elite cell in the National Crime Agency to go after these smuggling gangs upstream and to cooperate with the French, German and Belgian authorities.”




Alistair Thompson

Alistair Thompson is the Director of Team Britannia PR and a journalist.