Sir Keir Starmer was left floundering when pressed on whether he really would use full anti-terrorism powers against people smugglers to crack down on the small boats crisis.
The Labour leader gave an exclusive interview with Sky News’s Trevor Phillips to explain his new plan to end illegal migration if elected as Prime Minister next year.
But Phillips asked him whether using anti-terror laws against people smugglers means he would have suspects locked up for 28 days without charge so they could be properly investigated.
The measure was brought in to deal with terrorists by former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.
But Sir Keir’s answer revealed that his plans to treat people smugglers like terrorists has its limits.
Starmer said: “I don’t think it is the detention powers which are an issue here
“What I was talking about was the operation.
“There are othert feautres of terrorism provision that I would use.
“We have had serious crime prevention orders for a long time in place for terrorism, thst allows courts to restrict movement and freeze money…those orders have never been used in the vile trade of people smuggling.”
However, Phillips continued to press him on key legal powers including a section 38b order which requires people including families to report suspects involved in terrorism to the police.
Again Starmer was reluctant to use the power for people smugglers.
Phillips said: “I want to be clear that you mean or you say.”
He said that the Section 38b would apply “if what you say is what you mean, to the families of children on those boats.”
Starmer replied: “What I have said is that we need to put them in the bracket of terrorists.
“That ‘s how we smash those gangs behind the boats.”
He said a lot of the activity would be taken in other countries but he insisted that he would not accept the EU setting quotas for the UK which would see 100,000 more illegal migrants come a year.