Bibby Stockholm barge branded ‘floating symbol of catastrophic failure’

A shadow cabinet member has today reacted to news that 15 people have boarded the Bibby Stockholm, which she labelled a “floating symbol of catastrophic failure”.

Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, said the Bibby Stockholm “is not an example of success for the Conservatives, and it’s not a solution to the asylum crisis that they are responsible for”.

Alongside the Illegal Migration Act and the Rwanda Plan, barges are now a key element of the government’s plans to “stop the boats”.

It involves moving asylum seekers out of hotels and onto boats in ports around the UK as part of a bid to dissuade people from making the perilous journey over the Channel.

The Bibby Stockholm is one such barge, which docked in Portland Port in Dorset last month after a long delay due to safety concerns. 

The barge was set to welcome its first 50 residents last month, but the first 15 people boarded the Bibby Stockholm only yesterday. It is said that 500 people will eventually live on board, less than 1% of those waiting for their asylum claim to be processed.

Ms Haigh said it was “laughable” that the government continues to blame the opposition for blocking measures to tackle illegal migration, noting the government has been in power for 13 years.

Labour has said it wants to move away from any kind of accommodation, hotel, barge, or otherwise, by bringing down the backlog. It was this that Ms Haigh said ministers should be focused on.

Ms Haigh also labelled accusations that Labour-linked charities and lawyers are blocking efforts to move asylum seekers out of hotels “completely and utterly ludicrous”.

She added: “It really is a desperate attempt to deflect from their own failures, and the idea that the official opposition that’s not been in government for more than 13 years is responsible for the crisis that has been created in the asylum system by the Conservatives’ failure to tackle it is nothing short of risible.”

It comes as the government today announces a “task force” to root out lawyers after reports that false asylum claims are being submitted for a fee.

The Home Office has said the unit would bring together regulatory bodies, law enforcement teams and other government departments to act against solicitors and barristers found to be deceiving the courts.

Ms Haigh welcomed the action from the government, but added that it “is not going to be sufficient to tackle the major issues in the asylum system”.

Also speaking this morning, justice secretary Alex Chalk said the task force was designed to “go after the minority of lawyers” who game the system

He stressed that the “overwhelming majority do an extremely important and professional job”.

He added: “Where there is that small minority who abuse their position, who betray their profession frankly, who make up stories, who lie, or otherwise abuse the process in order to support clients – we are ramping up our ability to [tackle that].”

Mr Chalk was also challenged on whether this is a new idea, as Boris Johnson’s Nationality and Borders Act included such a provision.

He insisted this approach is new, saying that the task force is a “step change in approach” within the Home Office to ensure case workers can identify potentially fraudulent claims and help build evidence.

He said it’s “right” that government should go after the “tiny minority” of lawyers who “let the side down”.

The minister was also asked about a letter obtained by Sky News showing that asylum seekers were told they have until today to board the barge or face the withdrawal of government support.

The government has a legal responsibility to house and support asylum seekers – who cannot work – while their claims are processed.

The justice secretary denied the government is breaking that legal responsibility to house and support asylum seekers, who cannot work, while their claims are processed, saying: “Those who object to going on the barge can seek legal advice and try to resist it in the normal way.”

He said Britons expect that “safe and decent” housing be provided for asylum seekers, but not “four star hotel accommodation” at a cost of £6m per day.

Challenged on the fact that the Bibby Stockholm Mr Chalk said the barge is “part of it, but it’s not the complete solution”.

He said a “huge amount of work” is under way to find “cheaper, more cost-efficient, and frankly more proportionate accommodation”.