Will Rwanda scheme be scrapped and can ‘tough love’ plan cut crime? Sky News experts on key issues facing PM

Politics

Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer is going to be busy from the get-go.

From the cost of living crisis and small boats crossings to the drive for green energy and a war in Ukraine, the new Labour government has its work cut out for it.

To get a sense of the challenge facing Sir Keir, we spoke to our experienced specialist correspondents to see what it all means for their patches.

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Labour made the NHS a focus of its campaign. Pic: PA

Action on the NHS – Ashish Joshi, health correspondent

There’s a very good reason Wes Streeting has been so prominent during Labour’s election campaign. The NHS is in a pretty bad way. And Labour say they will fix it.

The last time NHS waiting lists were manageable was under a Labour government. But the challenges are far greater this time. The biggest difference is the pandemic and the impact it’s had on the nation’s health and health service. The workforce is depleted and exhausted.

And yet that same workforce will be asked to deliver an extra 40,000 appointments a week. Nobody, Labour assure us, will be forced to take on the extra work. Extra doctors, nurses and trained clinical staff can’t be magicked out of thin air.

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Can Labour end the junior doctors’ strike? Pic: PA

New Health Secretary Mr Streeting said the first thing he will do is to call union leaders for talks to resolve the ongoing junior doctors’ strikes. They will not suddenly drop their demands for pay restoration, but at least a change of administration might offer a fresh perspective to move forward.

Satisfaction with the NHS and social care is at its lowest level in 40 years. For Labour, that’s a good place to start as even small gains will see the needle move in the right direction.

‘A greater emphasis on crime prevention’ – Jason Farrell, home editor

When she was home secretary, Priti Patel made a concerted investment in tackling county lines drug dealing and was often seen out on dawn raids with the police, her focus on disrupting the gangs.

Labour, it seems, will put a greater emphasis on crime prevention, keeping kids out of gangs by launching a “Young Futures programme”.

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Sir Keir Starmer and Yvette Cooper with police officers. Pic: PA

New Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has spoken about the “tough love” plan to tackle knife crime, which would see youth workers placed in A&E units, custody centres and pupil referral units.

Ms Cooper also promises a police reform plan to bring in mandatory standards in policing so that vetting, training and dealing with misconduct doesn’t vary across forces.

Upcoming NATO summit – Deborah Haynes, security and defence editor

Defence and security will have to dominate the first few days of the new government as the prime minister prepares to travel to Washington for a major NATO summit of world leaders.

However, you can expect national security and military operations to be a dominant focus throughout Sir Keir Starmer’s time in office as global tensions mount amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, conflict in the Middle East and the growing threat from China.

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Pic: PA

Labour have pledged to conduct a sweeping review of UK defence and security within the party’s first 12 months in power, and to set a path towards increasing the defence budget to 2.5% of national income from just over 2%.

Yet military insiders believe the armed forces are in need of clear direction now, not later.

Experts worry that waiting until 2025 for the government to produce yet another thorough plan for the size and shape of the army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force – framed by whatever ambitions Sir Keir has for them – will simply waste more time.

‘Big promises’ on clean energy – Tom Clarke, science and technology editor

Labour have made some big promises on clean energy. If they deliver on them, it could bring meaningful long-term reductions in energy bills, as well as improve energy security and help reduce the dangers from climate change.

There are companies waiting to invest if Labour can ease the current planning and supply-chain constraints. But how they plan to deliver on other less investment-friendly pledges, like improving energy efficiency of homes and installing heat-pumps in social housing, without spending a lot more public money isn’t clear.

Like their predecessors, Labour want the UK to become a “science superpower”. They want to start by healing rifts between researchers and the last government, caused first by Brexit that severed funding sources from the EU, then by the Tories’ “war on woke” that seriously undermined trust among universities and saw academics unfairly targeted for their views.

A first test will be details on a 10-year budget for key research institutions which Labour claim will elevate UK biosciences to “superpower” status. But so far there’s been no detail on what those budgets might be.

One interesting area to watch is Labour’s stance on AI. The UK’s close relationship to big tech firms like Google has helped us become a heavyweight in AI research and deployment, bringing real economic benefit. Maintaining Labour’s commitment to protecting workers from an AI-takeover without capitulating to Silicon Valley will be a tightrope walk.

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Rwanda scheme scrapped – Becky Johnson, communities correspondent

Migration – specifically what to do with people coming to the UK on small boats – has been a key dividing line during the election campaign.

Sir Keir Starmer has made it clear that he will scrap the Rwanda scheme “straight away” and has come under intense questioning about what his party will do about the tens of thousands of people already in Britain who were at risk of being sent to the African country.

Since the Illegal Migration Bill passed in July last year, people arriving via small boats have been barred from claiming asylum in the UK. Most are in Home Office-funded accommodation and had been waiting to see if they would be selected for Rwanda flights.

Read more:
Starmer pledges ‘elite’ Border Unit with anti-terror powers

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Immigration officers carrying out a detention visit.
Pic: Home Office/PA

Labour have said they will allow those who have arrived to put in asylum claims, and those who are successful will be allowed to remain in Britain. They say those who are unsuccessful will be returned.

But the UK doesn’t return people to countries where they are at risk of persecution, ruling out returns to several parts of the world, among them Afghanistan, Iran and Syria.

Labour haven’t ruled out the idea of returns to a safe third country. But having said it will not be Rwanda, first a country would need to be identified and agree to accept migrants. There would then begin a lengthy parliamentary and legal process to put in place new legislation.

Free world looks ‘in grave peril’ – Dominic Waghorn, international affairs editor

As Sir Keir Starmer takes the helm, international waters have rarely been so ominous. The free world has not looked in such grave peril for decades.

In America, the likely next president is Donald Trump, a man viscerally suspicious of rules, let alone rules-based world orders. His very accession to power threatens the fatal weakening of NATO and imperils Ukraine’s chances of staving off Russian aggression.

His threats of retribution and political subversion at home arguably endanger the US republic itself.

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Donald Trump could be re-elected in November. Pic: Reuters

In Europe, the far-right is on the march. At worst, that threatens a government in France antipathetic to Keir Starmer’s political principles and agenda. At best, it will likely bring political chaos gridlock in one of the two strongest pillars of Europe.

In the Far East, North Korea’s eccentric tyrant is taking advantage of Russia’s weakness to help himself to technology and aid that will make his despotic rule even more dangerous to the world.

And China is ruled by a man apparently still determined at some point to annex neighbouring Taiwan against the will of its people and trample their rights, as he has in Hong Kong. He seems unbothered by the likely economic and geopolitical implications of such a move.

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Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un meet in Pyongyang, North Korea. Pic: Sputnik/Reuters

So looming chaos and division wherever the new prime minister and his foreign secretary look. For once after years of political turmoil, Britain seems stable and almost boringly calm unlike the rest of the world. Its political system has weathered multiple storms. Not for the first time in history it has made peace with forces now roiling its continental neighbours ahead of them.

If they are wise, Britain’s new stewards of foreign policy will seek to lead and mediate where possible, avoid distraction over internal squabbles at home and navigate a true course through these unprecedentedly choppy waters. If they fail Britain will likely be sucked into the turmoil too.

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