Asylum seekers could start being housed on the Bibby Stockholm barge as soon as today – with the government announcing further measures to combat illegal migration.
About 50 people are expected to be in the first group of migrants to board the vessel docked in Portland Port, Dorset, despite local opposition.
The developments come as the government begins a so-called “small boats week” – with a series of announcements on the issue that Rishi Sunak has promised to solve.
Fines for employers and landlords who allow people who arrive by illegal means to work for them or live in their properties are to be hugely increased.
Civil penalties for employers will be increased up to a maximum of £45,000 per worker for a first breach and £60,000 for repeat offenders, tripling both from the last increase in 2014.
Landlords face fines going from £1,000 per occupier to £10,000, with repeat breaches going from £3,000 to £20,000. Penalties relating to lodgers will also be hiked.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick told Sky News that the Bibby Stockholm will accept its first occupants “in the coming days”.
The Home Office did nothing to dampen suggestions the arrivals could come on Monday. Various expected dates have been given and then missed in the past, however.
Mr Jenrick offered a guarantee that it is a “safe facility” after the firefighters’ union warned it is a “potential death trap”, citing concerns including overcrowding and access to fire exits.
“We hope that the first migrants will go on to the boat in the coming days, I’m not going to give you an exact date – but very soon,” he said.
He said increasing the numbers on the barge to the capacity of about 500 is still the plan despite concerns from the Fire Brigades Union over the vessel initially designed to house about 200.
The government is also reconsidering plans to fly people who arrive by unauthorised means 4,000 miles to Ascension Island, according to multiple reports.
The proposals to use the British Overseas Territory are apparently being considered by ministers and officials as a “plan B” if the Rwanda plan fails.
Deep in the South Atlantic, the volcanic island could house an asylum processing centre as an attempt to reduce the number of small boats crossing the Channel.
The plans to remove asylum seekers who arrive by unauthorised means to Rwanda have been stalled by legal challenges that will end up in the Supreme Court.