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Labour would keep housing asylum seekers on barges – as Bibby Stockholm scheme to start ‘in coming days’

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The Labour Party has said it would have “no choice” but to continue housing asylum seekers on barges and ex-military bases if it forms the next government.

Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said Labour would “inherit a mess” from the Conservatives and that it would have to “deal with the infrastructure that we have”.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Kinnock said Labour would try to move asylum seekers out of hotels, barges and military camps as “quickly as possible”.

But he added: “The reality is, on day one of a Labour government, we have to deal with the infrastructure that we have in the complete, chaotic, shambolic mess that the Conservative government will have left us.”

Pressed on whether that meant Labour would still use barges, he said: “We will be left with no choice but to deal with the mess that we inherit.”

Mr Kinnock’s admission comes as the two parties trade blows over the small boat crisis in the Channel and as asylum seekers prepare to arrive on the controversial Bibby Stockholm barge in Dorset “in the coming days”.

Sky News reported earlier this week that the first people were due to arrive on the vessel on Monday – from an original date of last week – following a series of delays around fire safety and working practices.

But asked about their impending arrival, immigration minister Robert Jenrick declined to give a date and said it would happen “in the coming days”.

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Inside the Bibby Stockholm barge

The minister told Sky News the Home Office did not “routinely” provide dates for arrivals, citing “security reasons” – despite the previous briefings.

“We do care about the security of the individuals concerned and our staff and so we don’t routinely give out those dates, but it will be soon,” he said.

“We expect it to be in the coming days.”

Asked if the barge was safe to be used, Mr Jenrick replied: “I can absolutely assure you that this is a safe facility.

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‘Huge concerns’ over safety of migrant barge

“And remember, this is something that’s been used before by other governments, by oil and gas workers. If it’s good enough for them, I’m pretty sure it’s good enough for the migrants.”

Mr Kinnock said he was “personally deeply unhappy” at the prospect of continuing to use the Bibby Stockholm, adding it was “the last thing that we would want to be doing”.

“The hotels are costing the British taxpayer £6m a day – that is money that could be channelled into far more useful causes in terms of our schools, our hospitals, helping to grow our economy.”

His rhetoric about the use of temporary accommodation for asylum seekers marks a change in tone from what Labour has previously said about the issue.

How long can Labour use ‘Conservative legacy’ line?

Mhari Aurora

Politics and business correspondent

@MhariAurora

Housing migrants on barges looks set to be UK immigration policy no matter who you vote for.

Despite how much it might get under Labour’s skin, the opposition has admitted it will continue to house migrants on barges and in hotels and military accommodation until it can get the asylum backlog under control.

Labour says this is their way of being realistic and honest with the public about the reality of the “mess” they say they will inherit from the Tories were they to win the next general election.

But this could be a hint of what we can expect from a Labour government on a range of policy areas.

Trying to lower expectations way ahead of a general election, the Labour Party will be concerned it could be judged for its predecessor’s sins if it fails to get a grip quickly on the people’s priorities.

As we saw from the fallout from Sir Keir Starmer’s refusal to scrap the two child benefit cap – a policy members of his own shadow cabinet have called “heinous” – Labour’s biggest challenge will be justifying keeping policies they have previously railed against.

But how long can they use that line for?

At some point the public will begin to hold them accountable for the nation’s woes, irrespective of the Conservative Party’s legacy.

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, has previously indicated she would not be able to immediately shut down the sites but was not explicit about what Labour would do if in power.

This weekend has seen a war of words escalate between the two parties over the small boats crisis.

Home Secretary Suella Braveman accused Sir Keir Starmer in the Sunday Express of trying to “sabotage” the government’s plans with its links to charities and lawyers who oppose the scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda – a policy that is currently held up in the courts.

She said the Labour leader was “secretly delighted at his web of cronies’ schemes to block our plans to stop the boats”.

“He’s in this for political point scoring and doesn’t care about what’s good for the country or the British people,” she said.

Meanwhile, Labour has accused the government of “cooking the books” on the asylum backlog by “artificially removing” people from it to give the illusion of progress.

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Tories ‘cooking the books’ on asylum backlog

The party claims there are around 6,000 missing asylum applications.

“If somebody misses one appointment, they’re immediately classified as withdrawn,” Mr Kinnock said. “It doesn’t mean that they’ve been processed either.

“It just puts people into limbo and effectively then people are just slipping into the underground economy. The government’s got no idea where they are and what they’re doing, and that is the opposite of the right way to run our asylum system.”

Mr Jenrick said the Home Office was in fact taking a “robust approach” to the backlog and that asylum was a “privilege”.

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‘Asylum is a privilege’

“If you abuse it, you should be treated appropriately,” he continued.

Read more:
Solicitors firms shut down after investigation into fake asylum claims
Social media giants to crack down on posts encouraging migrants to make journey

“If somebody doesn’t turn up to an interview or isn’t compliant with the conditions of their asylum bail, then we withdraw their case and we pass the file to immigration enforcement, who will then prepare to remove that individual.

“We don’t give people lots of second and third chances in that respect.

“I think what Labour, as far as I can tell, are suggesting is that we should keep offering people asylum over and over again, even if they don’t turn up to interviews – that’s wrong.

“If somebody doesn’t turn up, if they’re not compliant, then they should be removed from the country and their asylum claim withdrawn.”



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