Bibby Stockholm ‘floating symbol of PM's failure’ to stop the boats

Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman are desperate to stop the boats. Credit: PA

The Bibby Stockholm barge housing asylum seekers off Dorset is a "floating symbol of failure" which represents the government's performance on tackling illegal immigration, a leading charity boss has said.

Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman have tried numerous techniques to "stop the boats" but so far there has been very little tangible, sustained impact and a new plan to tackle "crooked" migration lawyers has been labelled "too little too late".

The home secretary announced what was described as a "new dedicated task force” to identify unscrupulous lawyers after reports that some are helping migrants game the asylum system by charging to help submit false claims.

But there is no new money to support the Professional Enablers Taskforce and the group has been carrying out preliminary work over the past few months.

The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, has said the necessary powers are already in place to deal with immigration advisers engaged in misconduct.

It added the Home Office is focusing on a “tiny minority of lawyers” rather than “significant” asylum claim backlogs and “the unworkability of the Illegal Migration Act”.

Labour said it was “too little too late” and the “buck stops” with the Conservatives, accusing them of having “sat idly by for 13 years while illegal migration has spun out of control”.

Shadow justice secretary Steve Reed said: “Now, weak as ever, they are setting up a talking shop instead of cracking down on those who abuse our immigration system.”

Official figures released on Monday confirmed the number of migrants staying in hotels has grown to more than 50,000, highlighting the government's illegal immigration woes.

Labour's Louise Haigh questioned how the home secretary could criticise aspects of the UK's immigration policies, given her party has been in power for more than 13 years.

"When the current home secretary says that the asylum system is broken, she's right. And there's only one party to blame for that and it's the Conservative Party.

"What we've seen over the last few days, weeks and months is desperate attempts to deflect and pass responsibility and the buck onto anybody but themselves when they've been in power for over 13 years."

Ms Braverman's plan to tackle unscrupulous migration lawyers comes after the Daily Mail reported a number of solicitors agreed to help an undercover journalist posing as an economic migrant submit a false application in exchange for thousands of pounds.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) prohibits lawyers from deceiving courts, and any act of dishonesty or lack of integrity may result in them being struck off.

The Home Office said the unit would bring together regulatory bodies, law enforcement teams and other government departments to take action against advocates found to be deceiving the courts.

Work already carried out by the task force includes the development of a new training package for frontline staff who work in the immigration system to help them identify and report suspect activity, according to the department.

Police referrals have also been made where criminal activity is suspected, the Home Office said.

The announcement came after the first 15 migrants boarded the Bibby Stockholm barge, amid others being granted a last-minute reprieve after a series of legal challenges.

People arrive by coach to board the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset Credit: Ben Birchall/PA

Care4Calais CEO Steve Smith said the barge was a "floating symbol of failure" after revealing around 20 asylum seekers did not board as planned because their transfers were “cancelled” following legal challenges.

“None of the asylum seekers we are supporting have gone to the Bibby Stockholm today as legal representatives have had their transfers cancelled.

“Amongst our clients are people who are disabled, who have survived torture and modern slavery and who have had traumatic experiences at sea.

"To house any human being in a ‘quasi floating prison’ like the Bibby Stockholm is inhumane. To try and do so with this group of people is unbelievably cruel. Even just receiving the notices is causing them a great deal of anxiety.”

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said the government was committed to getting people on the barge and would fight for the policy in the courts.

He accepted numbers on there weren't as high as ministers would like due to legal challenges, which he said were "opportunistic, misconceived, wrongheaded and so on and we'll challenge those, we'll address those in the courts".

Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson was reported to have said asylum seekers complaining about the barge, moored off the Dorset coast, should “f*** off back to France”.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman, speaking about the task force, said: “Crooked immigration lawyers must be rooted out and brought to justice.

“While the majority of lawyers act with integrity – we know that some are lying to help illegal migrants game the system. It is not right or fair on those who play by the rules.

“The British people want us to put an end to illegal migration – I am determined to crack down on these immoral lawyers and stop the boats.”

Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Credit: PA

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Ms Braverman said: “These conmen make it far harder to remove people who have no right to be here – and they must face the full force of the law.

“I want to see the worst offenders in jail and we have the laws in place to bring them to justice.

“I know our teams are working incredibly hard to root out those who game our asylum system and cheat the British public – this can’t go on.”

Mr Chalk said: “The accuracy and honesty of legal advice underpins the integrity of our world-leading legal system, so those who undermine it by encouraging deception must be held to account.

“This Government is committed to stopping the boats – that means breaking the business model of criminal gangs and holding to account unscrupulous lawyers who aid and abet them by abusing the legal system.”

But Richard Atkinson, deputy vice president of the Law Society, said: “This ‘task force’ has been around for months now, so it is not clear what, if anything, the Government is announcing today.”

He added: “The government, regulators and law enforcement agencies already have the powers they need to deal with immigration advisers engaged in misconduct.

“The overwhelming majority of immigration lawyers continue to support the rule of law through their adherence to the law and professional standards set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and provide an essential service to clients.

“The focus of the Home Office on a tiny minority of lawyers to which they are apparently applying considerable resources should not deflect from the fact that there remains significant backlogs in asylum claims or the unworkability of the Illegal Migration Act.”

Bar Council chairman Nick Vineall KC said lawyers must observe ethical and conduct rules which apply to them while advising and representing their clients, with appropriate sanctions if they breach them.

He said: “The task force must not fall into the trap of identifying lawyers with the causes of their clients, nor should it assume that misbehaviour by clients amounts to misbehaviour by lawyers.”

The first asylum seekers arrived at the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland on Monday, with the Home Office saying people are expected to be housed there for between three to nine months.

MP Lee Anderson Credit: ITV Central

Cheryl Avery, the Home Office’s director for asylum accommodation, confirmed 15 people were moved onto the vessel as part of the Government’s bid to cut the cost of hotel bills by finding other accommodation, which also includes former military bases.

Tory MP Mr Anderson, on those complaining about the accommodation, told “If they don’t like barges then they should f*** off back to France.”

He added: “I think people have just had enough.

“These people come across the Channel in small boats, if they don’t like the conditions they are housed in here then they should go back to France or better not come at all in the first place.”

Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, currently an Independent MP, wrote on Twitter: “A new low even for the Tories.”

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