Keir Starmer jokes about Nigel Farage after Natalie Elphicke defection

Sir Keir Starmer has refused to rule out letting Nigel Farage into Labour Party, but joked that he would be the last person wanting to join his party.

The Labour leader was introduced by former Tory MP Natalie Elphicke ahead of a major speech on immigration just days after her defection.

Sir Keir said it is “great to have you” to Ms Elphicke, whose shock decision to cross the floor of the House of Commons sparked fury among Labour MPs.

Sir Keir Starmer said Nigel Farage would not (AP)
Sir Keir Starmer said Nigel Farage would not (AP)

Asked how broad a church he is willing to oversee as Labour leader, Sir Keir said: “This changed Labour Party ought to be a place where reasonably minded people, whichever way they have voted in the past, feel that they can join in our project to change the country for the better.

“It is an invitation, and we should be less tribal in the pursuit of a better country, and invite people to our party to join in our project of national renewal.”

He extended an invitation not just to Labour voters, but all those who have backed other parties in the past.

Pressed specifically on whether he would welcome Mr Farage, who is currently the honorary president and owner of right-wing Reform UK, Sir Keir said: “He is the last person that would want to join this Labour Party.

Keir Starmer said Labour would ‘carry as many people with us as possible’ when asked whether Nigel Farage could join (Getty Images)
Keir Starmer said Labour would ‘carry as many people with us as possible’ when asked whether Nigel Farage could join (Getty Images)

“I am not going to list names… but Nigel Farage would not want to join.” Sir Keir’s spokesman on Wednesday refused to rule out letting Mr Farage into the party in the wake of Ms Elphicke’s defection.

But he added: “There is a serious point. That if we are to renew our country we do need to ensure we carry as many people with us as possible and I genuinely think most reasonably minded people across the country do want a better country for their families and communities.”

After Ms Elphicke’s defection, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told The Independent he has spoken to Conservative MPs who are contemplating a defection to the Labour Party because of the “division and incompetence” in Mr Sunak’s government.

But the shadow health secretary insisted that Labour will not take just any Tory MP. Referencing Mr Sunak’s predecessor’s short term in office, he noted: “If Liz Truss were to want to cross the floor, and I don’t imagine she would, I would rather take the lettuce.”

Tory MPs are panicking over who could be next to walk out of their party as their once mighty majority of 80 continues to dwindle towards 30.

Tory MPs have mocked Labour’s welcoming of Ms Elphicke, who was considered right-wing even on the Tory benches.

The Labour leader, who became an MP in 2015 after a career as a barrister and a stint as director of public prosecutions, said he may be less tribal because he came into politics so late in life.

Sir Keir was then asked whether he was extending an invitation to “all Conservative MPs who are unhappy with the government to enter defection talks”.

“Well, that would be a long list,” he joked.

He added: “I am sure there are many other Tory MPs feeling defeated by this government. I don’t know what the latest is on the list of those standing down, but it is pretty high.

“They can see for themselves this is a government that is out of ideas, out of road, out of steam and what we need is change.”

It came as Sir Keir declined to commit to "stopping the boats" as he set out his party’s plans to tackle cross-Channel migration.

The Labour leader said crossings needed to be reduced "materially" and he would "like it to come down completely", but added he would not put a "false number" on his plans.

Speaking in Deal, Kent, on Friday, Sir Keir said a Labour government would expand counter-terror powers to cover people-smuggling gangs and create a new Border Security Command to co-ordinate efforts to halt the crossings.

In a message to smuggling gangs, he said: "These shores will become hostile territory for you - we will find you. We will stop you. We will protect your victims with the Border Security Command. We will secure Britain’s borders."

He also reiterated his commitment to scrap the Government’s Rwanda policy "straight away", saying it was a "gimmick" he had no interest in pursuing.

But asked what would happen to any people deported to Rwanda in the coming months, he said Labour was "not interested in repatriating people".