Asylum seeker barge on Portland could be in place 'for years', warns Tory MP

South Dorset MP Richard Drax complained that neither the local council, the police, nor health authorities had been consulted in advance about the plans. Credit: Bibby Marine

A barge that will be used to house asylum seekers off the Dorset coast could be 'in place for years to come', one of the county’s Conservative MPs has warned.

The Home Office announced the plan to house 500 migrants on the three-storey Bibby Stockholm earlier this month.

The vessel will be docked at Portland Port, with the aim of providing basic accommodation to migrants and reducing the reliance on costly hotels.

Leading an adjournment debate on the proposals in the Commons, South Dorset MP Richard Drax criticised the Home Office and said immigration minister Robert Jenrick had not “covered himself in glory” while executing the plan.

He complained that neither the local council, the police, nor health authorities had been consulted in advance about the plans, but had instead been told about the contract with the port on 21 March.

Mr Drax told the Commons: “What is clear is that the Home Office had made its decision before consulting with anyone other than the port.

“Now bombarded by questions it cannot answer and opposed by all the statutory bodies, the Home Office is trying to smooth troubled waters.

“It has been handled in the most discourteous way and I am afraid the minister has not exactly covered himself in glory either.

Mr Jenrick could be seen shaking his head at the criticism from the backbench Tory MP.

Mr Drax questioned how long the barge would be used to house migrants, telling the Commons: “We know the contract is for 18 months. However, the Home Office website states this will be kept under review which is pretty open-minded in my view.

“Bearing in mind the scale of the problem nationally, I fear this barge could be in place for years to come."

The South Dorset MP said the barge would likely have an impact on local tourism in the summer, and questioned the promise that it would bring new jobs and investment to the area.

“The likelihood is it is going bring trouble,” he said.

He claimed the vessel was “designed to accommodate 222 people” but would be used to house 506 instead, suggesting that even “doubling up of the rooms” would not be enough to house them all.

Responding to the debate, Mr Jenrick said that whilst the policy is “undoubtedly in the national interest”, the Government appreciates it has “a particularly serious impact” upon the community represented by Dorset MPs.

He added: “Myself, the Home Secretary, the Government stand ready to work with them to make this policy as successful as possible, to listen to the views of their constituents and to mitigate the negatives as far as possible.

”The immigration minister also noted that Dorset Police will be provided with a “special grant” that will cover the “additional burden that this special national endeavour has upon their very limited resources”.

On the support Dorset Council will get, Mr Jenrick added: “We have offered significant funding to them. They will receive at least £3000 per asylum seeker residing on the vessel per year which will enable them to provide extra resources and personnel to manage the project.”

However, he stressed that “we won’t be placing many burdens upon them”, as the vessel will be managed by the Home Office and “wherever possible, we will pay for the services that are required for those individuals”.