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Giant barge that will house 500 asylum seekers finally arrives at port

The enormous barge, Bibby Stockholm, intended to accommodate 500 migrants, has embarked from its dock in Cornwall and is now on its way to Dorset.

The barge, which has been stationed at its berth in Falmouth, is set to be towed to its final destination in Portland, Dorset. This 305ft barge was brought into Cornish waters in May to undergo necessary checks and refurbishment.

Despite local council and Tory MP Richard Drax’s opposition, the 1970s-built, 10,659-ton super-vessel with 222 cabins was delayed in Falmouth harbour and only began its journey to Portland this morning. It was initially expected to arrive in Portland a month ago.

A Home Office spokesman announced: “We can confirm that Bibby Stockholm is now on its way to Portland Port. Using vessels as alternative accommodation, like our European neighbours are already doing, will be better value for British taxpayers and more manageable for communities than costly hotels.

“We continue to work extremely closely with local councils and key partners to prepare for arrival of asylum seekers later this month and minimise disruption for local residents including through substantial financial support.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman added: “It’s right for the public as a whole that we move away from a situation where taxpayers’ money of £6million a day is going towards housing these individuals in hotels

“That’s not a good use of money. Obviously that puts unplanned pressures on local areas as well.

“We think it is better to open specific sites designed to house immigrants that come in in a more planned way, and that’s what we are seeking to do with the Bibby Stockholm.”

Meanwhile, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper refused to commit on whether the Labour Party would discontinue using barges and military bases for migrant accommodation if they came into power.

Addressing the Royal United Services Institute think tank, she said: “What we want to see is the backlog cleared so that the Government doesn’t need to use the hotels or other alternatives, and we can simply focus on the long-standing asylum accommodation that has always been there.”

When pressed if Labour would persist in using barges, she responded: “The action we will take is to rapidly clear the backlog and to take action to speed up the system.

“We will take action to clear the backlog. We’ll have to address what we inherit at that time because at the moment it is so chaotic what the Government is doing.”

The departure of the barge coincides with MPs gearing up for a renewed dispute with the House of Lords over the Illegal Migration Bill. The Lords are advocating for additional concessions on limits to child detention, modern slavery protections, and the provision of safe and legal passage for refugees to the UK.

This controversial Bill, which the Government asserts is vital in addressing the issue of small boat crossings in the English Channel, has already led to multiple defeats for the Government in the Lords, prompting a legislative back-and-forth between the two chambers.

The Commons have overturned a number of prior revisions by the unelected chamber, despite rebellions by Tory MPs – including former Prime Minister Theresa May – who are apprehensive about the proposed changes.

The Bill forms part of a suite of measures aimed at discouraging migrants from crossing the channel by clarifying that those entering the UK via irregular means won’t be allowed to stay and could face deportation to their home country or a third country like Rwanda.

The agreement to send migrants to Rwanda on a one-way basis has been fraught with legal issues and is bound for the Supreme Court. Amidst a backlog of asylum cases in the UK, the Government aims to reduce the cost of hotel stays by resorting to alternative accommodation options, including the Bibby Stockholm and former military bases.

Councils and activists have received permission to mount a High Court challenge against the use of disused airfields to house migrants. Braintree District Council and a local resident are legally challenging the use of Wethersfield in Essex to accommodate up to 1,700 men, while West Lindsey District Council opposes similar plans for RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire.

A number of asylum seekers have already been relocated to Wethersfield, and the first group is expected to board the Bibby Stockholm later this month.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman informed MPs on June 5 that the vessel would reach Portland within a fortnight, a deadline that was missed. Dorset Council has received a £2 million funding package to cover the expenses associated with providing services to the residents of the Bibby Stockholm.

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