Migrants could be housed on old ferries as Rishi Sunak ends hotel stays
Migrants could be housed on disused ferries as part of efforts to clear asylum seekers out of hotels, the Telegraph has learned.
Rishi Sunak is expected to declare as early as next week the “beginning of the end” of asylum hotels which are currently being used to house more than 50,000 migrants at a cost of nearly £7 million a day.
It is set to be announced that migrants will initially be moved into “decent but rudimentary” accommodation in former military bases which will be used to house single, adult male migrants.
Ministers are also understood to be seeking to use disused ferries but plans to use student accommodation and holiday camps have been put on hold.
Ministers are expected to argue the living conditions meet the Government’s minimum legal obligations but will toughen its approach to counter the “pull factor” of asylum hotels and reduce the cost. They have included four-star country houses on rural estates.
It follows violent protests outside the hotels where pro and anti-immigration groups have clashed and growing anger among Tory backbenchers at the impact on over-stretched local services and economies.
Ministers face backlash from councils
However, ministers face a backlash from councils in two of the areas with military bases where the migrants are expected to be transferred. Officials from both authorities told The Telegraph they were considering legal action over the moves.
It comes as Mr Sunak faces potentially the biggest rebellion of his premiership as up to 60 Tory MPs attempt to toughen the new Illegal Migration Bill by giving UK courts the power to ignore rulings by Strasbourg judges, disapplying parts of the Human Rights Act and blocking injunctions to prevent deportations.
The rebel MPs, who include at least six former ministers, are backing amendments at next week’s committee stage to ensure plans to detain and swiftly remove migrants can go ahead, irrespective of any judgments from the European Court of Human Rights. The MPs have been called into Number 10 to try to resolve the row.
The military bases and ferries will be used to clear asylum seekers from the hotels and to house Channel migrants who reach the UK on small boats.
Ministers have said the new small boats legislation will apply retrospectively to migrants who arrive after the bill was laid on March 7 but before it is passed this summer. This enables them to be removed under its terms to a third country such as Rwanda once it is passed. Some 3,680 migrants have crossed the Channel so far this year after 2022’s record 45,755 reached the UK.
It is understood ministers are also planning to use ferries, emulating an approach by the Scottish Government which housed Ukrainian refugees in two 700-cabin ships. They were docked in Glasgow and Edinburgh and could hold 1,750 people each. It is not known where the Government’s ferries might be berthed.
Two military bases have been identified – RAF Scampton, the Dambusters’ base in Lincolnshire, and MDP Wethersfield in Braintree, Essex – which could each house up to 1,500 migrants in refurbished barracks and cabins. Ministers will make a final decision before a possible announcement in the middle of next week.
Migrants free to come and go
Council leaders have been told up to 5,000 migrants could move through each over the space of a year. The migrants transferred from hotels would not be detained but would be free to come and go, with medical and other facilities provided on site.
James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, who is the local MP for the Essex base, wrote on his Facebook page that Wethersfield was inappropriate as an asylum camp because of “the remote nature of the site, limited transport infrastructure and narrow road network”.
Local residents have reported preparatory work under way including fence repairs and tree removals, with some claiming to have been told the first migrants could arrive in early April.
Braintree District Council said it reserved the right to consider “all available legal remedies including its ability to seek an injunction if it becomes necessary and appropriate to do so”.
West Lindsey District Council has warned that converting the 800-acre RAF Scampton site into an asylum centre will scupper a £300 million regeneration deal with a developer, while 40 leading historians described the plan for the historic Dambusters’ base as a “scandalous desecration of immeasurable recklessness”.
Ministers are expected to pledge to preserve and improve the site and commit to help regenerate it after their temporary use of it.