Ascension Island part of ‘additional measures’ to tackle small boats – minister

Home Office minister Sarah Dines said times had changed since the original proposal to send asylum seekers to the remote island were rejected.

Patrick Daly
Monday 07 August 2023 13:59 BST
Ascension Island is reportedly under consideration as a ‘plan B’ if the Rwanda scheme fails (Martin Cleaver/PA)
Ascension Island is reportedly under consideration as a ‘plan B’ if the Rwanda scheme fails (Martin Cleaver/PA) (PA Archive)

A Home Office minister has confirmed the UK Government is looking at “additional measures” following reports that plans to send asylum seekers to Ascension Island could be revived.

Sarah Dines said “times change” and that the small boats crisis had become “urgent” when asked why the Ascension Island plan was reportedly being reconsidered after seemingly being rejected by Boris Johnson’s former government.

Proposals to use the volcanic island in the South Atlantic for processing people who arrive in the UK by unauthorised means are apparently being considered by ministers and officials as a “plan B” if the Rwanda scheme fails.

The plans to send asylum seekers to Kigali have been stalled by legal challenges that will end up in the Supreme Court.

Safeguarding minister Ms Dines said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman remain “committed” to the Rwanda agreement but said other measures were under consideration.

Asked on Sky News whether the multiple reports about the Ascension Island plan being revisited were correct, Ms Dines said: “We are pretty confident that Rwanda is a legal policy.

“The High Court and the Lord Chief Justice found that it was, so that is what we are focusing on.

“But like any responsible government, we look at additional measures, so we are looking at everything to make sure our policy works.

“We need to reduce the pull factor of illegal criminal gangs getting people to this country, basically abusing the system.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman would not comment on “speculation” surrounding utilising Ascension Island for asylum purposes but the PA news agency understands the Government is not actively pursuing the proposal.

In plans first revealed in 2020, former home secretary Dame Priti Patel reportedly ordered department officials to explore plans for building an asylum processing centre on the remote island, which is more than 4,000 miles from the UK.

The British Overseas Territory, which is used as a staging post to supply and defend the Falkland Islands, has an RAF base and a population of fewer than 1,000.

Moving asylum seekers there and keeping them supplied was said to represent a considerable logistical challenge, with the idea apparently dropped.

Ms Dines, asked why it was being briefed that Mr Sunak’s Conservative administration could revisit the possibility of using the island, told Sky News: “Well, times change.

“We look at all possibilities. This crisis in the Channel is urgent, we need to look at all possibilities and that is what we are doing.

“We are determined to make sure there isn’t the pull factor for illegal migrants to come to this country, basically to be abused by criminal organised gangs.

“These are international operations and they have got to stop.”

A spokesman for the Ascension Island government said: “UK migration policy is a matter for the UK Government.

“The Ascension Island government will not be drawn into speculation.”

Under Dame Priti’s initial plans, asylum seekers would reportedly be processed on Ascension Island with the possibility that they would return to mainland UK if their application was successful.

The Rwanda plan instead involves those sent to Kigali having an application processed to live in the east African country, rather than Britain.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in