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


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” if it wins the next election 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 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 the first asylum seekers prepare to arrive on the controversial Bibby Stockholm barge in Dorset next week, following a series of delays.

It marks a change in tone from what Labour has previously said about using barges to house asylum seekers.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper previously indicated she would not be able to immediately shut down the sites but has declined to be explicit about what Labour would do.

More on Bibby Stockholm

The government has also ramped up its attacks on Labour over the small boats crisis, with Home Secretary Suella Braveman accusing the party of trying to “sabotage” its plan to stop the boats 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 told the Sunday Express that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer 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.

Writing in the Sun on Sunday, immigration minister Robert Jenrick also accused Labour of using “every trick and tactic to delay and prevent us from removing people with no right to remain in the UK”.

“And as they do so, they put two fingers up to the law-abiding majority who suffer from illegal migration,” he wrote.

In response, Labour has accused the government of “cooking the books” by “artificially removing” people from the asylum backlog to make it look better.

“If somebody misses one appointment, they’re immediately classified as withdrawn,” he 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.”

A Home Office spokesperson said the government was “on track to clearing the ‘legacy’ asylum backlog”

“The latest figures show it has been reduced by a nearly a third since the start of December, down over 28,000, and we have 40% more asylum decision-makers in post compared to the start of December 2022,” they added.

“Our efforts to streamline processing mean statistics now show an increase in the number of withdrawn claims, which occur for a number of reasons including where someone has already left the UK before their claim was considered or they choose to or pursue another application for permission to stay.”

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