Tory MP issues legal threat over plan to put migrants on ‘floatel’ barge in Dorset

‘We will look at any way we can stop this’, says Richard Drax

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 04 April 2023 11:35 BST
Tory MP says asylum barges should be 'totally out of the question'

Rishi Sunak and his home secretary Suella Braverman could face a legal challenge over their plan to house migrants arriving on small boats on a floating accommodation barge in Dorset.

Conservative-run Dorset Council is opposed to the use of Portland Port as the site, and local Tory MP Richard Drax vowed: “We will look at any way we can stop this.”

The plan to use the Bibby Stockholm vessel, which will reportedly cost taxpayers more than £20,000 a day and could accommodate more than 500 migrants is expected to be unveiled by the Home Office this week.

Mr Drax, South Dorset MP, said the barge was being “dumped on our door” without consultation by the Home Office as he urged Ms Braverman to scrap the idea.

He vowed to work with the council and other local groups on legal action, saying: “We are looking at all legal routes. We will look at any way we can stop this. Every angle is being looked at.”

Mr Drax added: “We want to get this consigned to the dustbin before anything’s signed. We want to activate ourselves and say look home secretary, sorry – this is not the right place, can you please cancel this.”

Details of any leasing agreement with the Liverpool-based Bibby Marine Limited were unclear, but the 93-metre long vessel can house up to 506 people.

According to reports, the three-storey Bibby Stockholm barge has been refurbished since it was condemned as an “oppressive environment” when the Dutch government used it to house asylum seekers.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The pressure on the asylum system has continued to grow and requires us to look at a range of accommodation options which offer better value for money for taxpayers than hotels.”

Dorset council, residents groups, charities and the local police and crime commissioner are preparing legal action to stop the £20,000-a-day barge plan, according to The Times – reporting that home secretary Suella Braverman could unveil the policy as early as today.

Local sources told the newspaper that asylum seekers would have to be bussed from the barge to a port security every time they wish to leave. “It’s the same as an airport, all visitors have to be escorted, they will go in and out on a bus. They’ll effectively be treated like prisoners,” they said.

Rishi Sunak has vowed to ‘stop the boats’
Rishi Sunak has vowed to ‘stop the boats’ (PA Wire)

Mr Drax raised concerns about the practicality of keeping hundreds of vulnerable individuals in a “very, very restricted area”, placing extra pressure on the port’s “very small” police force.

The Tory MP added: “They will be allowed out on a bus every so often but in effect will be incarcerated for quite a lot of the time.”

Bill Reeves, chief executive of Portland Port, said it had been “selected by the Home Office to provide space for an accommodation facility”, adding: “We are currently liaising with the Home Office about the next steps.”

Mr Sunak has said the cost of using hotels and the pressure it puts on local areas meant it was not sustainable, as he pushes forward with plans to detain and deport migrants arriving via the English Channel on small boats.

Plans to use two ex-military bases and a former prison were met with anger by local Tories when they were unveiled last week. A Tory-run local authority launched legal action against the Home Office over the proposal to use RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire as a site for 2,000 asylum seekers.

Tory MP Sir Edward Leigh has attacked the idea of using Scampton – the former home of the “Dambusters” squadron which sits in his Lincolnshire constituency.

Foreign secretary James Cleverly has shared his frustration with plans to use RAF Wethersfield, near Braintree, to accommodate around 1,500 asylum seekers. Former home secretary Priti Patel is said to be helping her local council in Essex try to stop the camp.

Group of migrants brought in to Dungeness, Kent
Group of migrants brought in to Dungeness, Kent (PA)

The Home Office argues new types of accommodation must be used to reduce a £6m daily bill of using hotels.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick announced the sites under plans to offer asylum seekers accommodation to cater to their “essential living needs and nothing more”.

Senior Tory MP William Wragg said the idea of vessels was “something must be seen to be done policy” – attacking the “Rosie and Jim idea of barges all over the place”.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council charity, has described the use of military bases and boats as “wholly inadequate places” to house people who have fled war and persecution.

Mr Sunak and Ms Braverman still face possible Tory rebellions over their Illegal Migration Bill. Amendments tabled by senior Tory MP Tim seek to ensure powers of indefinite detention in the Bill do not apply to children.

Ministers have been urged to give “serious assurances” they will not return to the “barbaric days” of detaining children in immigration centres as part of the Illegal Migration Bill.

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