Plans for asylum seeker barge in London's Royal Docks axed as permission rejected

The controversial barge project has garnered criticism from many Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Permission to berth a barge housing asylum seekers at an east London dock has been rejected, it has been confirmed.

London’s Royal Docks said it had informed the Home Office last month that water beside City Airport would not be appropriate as a potential location to moor one of its floating accommodation vessels for refugees.

The use of barges is part of Government efforts to deter migrants from embarking on dangerous Channel crossings in small boats and to reduce the amount spent on hotels for those arriving in Britain via unlawful routes.

Mayor of London Mr Khan had set out his objections publicly to the suggestion a location in the capital could be chosen for such a vessel.

He has since written to Home Secretary Suella Braverman to express his support for the Royal Docks’ decision to deny permission for a barge.

“I am writing to you following the recent decision by the Royal Docks Management Authority to reject the use of King George V Dock as a berth to accommodate people seeking asylum,” he told the Cabinet minister in a letter seen by the PA news agency.

“I wish first to put on record my support for this decision and secondly to outline my absolute opposition to the Government’s policy of housing asylum seekers on vessels.”

Scott Derben, managing director of London’s Royal Docks, said: “London’s Royal Docks were approached by the Home Office to look at the feasibility of berthing a cruise ship to house asylum seekers.

“After investigation, it was concluded that this would not be an appropriate use for the Royal Docks.

“The Home Office was informed of this decision in May.”

Mr Khan said the UK’s capital had a “proud history of providing sanctuary for those seeking refuge” as he set out his “deep concerns” about the Conservative Government policy of housing asylum seekers on barges.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has defied the Labour line by calling for a ceasefire.

He told Mrs Braverman there was “no evidence” that barge accommodation would act as a deterrent to those seeking to come to Britain and argued it would “leave large numbers of people in wholly unsuitable conditions”.

The former MP also said the boats would be “highly visible” and that those being housed in them could be at “significant risk” from targeting by far-right protests.

“I would urge you in the strongest possible terms to abandon the Government’s plans to accommodate those seeking asylum in vessels,” he added.

Rishi Sunak this week insisted that his pledge to “stop the boats” was “starting to work”, as he revealed two more giant vessels will be used for migrant accommodation.

The Prime Minister declined to say where the two new barges would be moored, but there has been speculation that the vessels could be moored near Liverpool and Middlesbrough.

Sadiq Khan has written to Home Secretary Suella Braverman regarding asylum seeker vessels Credit: Yui Mok/PA

The Guardian also reported the Royal Docks was among a number of other locations being discussed as part of plans to acquire more barges and former cruise ships.

A Home Office spokeswoman asked about Royal Docks’ stance, said: “The pressure on the asylum system has continued to grow and requires us to look at a range of accommodation options which offer better value for the British taxpayer than expensive hotels.

“This is why we continue to source new alternative sites and vessels to accommodate migrants, which are more manageable for communities, as our European neighbours are doing.

“We understand the concerns of local communities and will work closely with councils and key partners to manage the impact of using these sites, including liaising with local police to make sure appropriate arrangements are in place.”

It comes as Labour accused ministers of “quietly ditching” the two-tier refugee system, which was introduced under the Nationality and Borders Act 2022.

In a written ministerial statement to MPs, immigration minister Robert Jenrick confirmed that the differentiation policy would be paused from July.

“This means we will stop taking grouping decisions under the differentiated asylum system after these rules changes and those individuals who are successful in their asylum application, including those who are granted humanitarian protection, will receive the same conditions.

“Our ability to remove failed asylum applicants remains unchanged,” he said.

Mr Jenrick said that the policy, which created two separate approaches to refugees depending on their route to the UK, had been the “right approach” when it came into force last June.

“Since then, the scale of the challenge facing the UK, like other countries, has grown,” he said.

He added that the Illegal Migration Bill now “represents a considerably stronger means of tackling the same issue that the differentiation policy sought to address”.

The Government’s Illegal Migration Bill is currently in the Lords, where it has faced strong criticism and close scrutiny from peers.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick and Home Secretary James Cleverly sought to reassure MPs in the House over the collapsed Rwanda policy. Credit: Jordan Pettitt/PA

But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that Labour had warned that the policy would only make “the bureaucracy and chaos worse”.

“Even worse, they have slipped out the announcement in a written statement to avoid publicity or scrutiny by Parliament or the press.

“This is a damning indictment of the Conservatives’ flagship immigration Bill, and of their entire record on small boats, and shows ministers have no idea what they are doing to fix the Tory small boats chaos.

“Labour will fix the asylum system that has been broken under 13 years of the Tories.”

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