Plans to house asylum seekers in military bases and barges as government pushes ahead to ‘discourage’ small boat crossings
Asylum seekers will be housed in disused military bases, ferries and barges under government plans to reduce spending on hotels.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick is expected to announce the use of two RAF sites as he tries to reduce the £6.8m a day the government says it spends on hotel accommodation.
The plans are likely to be controversial, with foreign secretary James Cleverly having already criticised suggestions a base in his Essex constituency would be used.
Sources also downplayed the likelihood of barges and ferries being used imminently, saying none had been purchased yet.
Jenrick will announce that people who arrive in the UK after making Channel crossings on small boats will be housed at RAF Wethersfield and RAF Scampton.
Conservative former minister Sir Edward Leigh has previously criticised the use of Scampton, the former home of the Dambusters which sits in his Lincolnshire constituency.
A government source said there is a “direction of travel” towards using ferries and barges as well but said “nothing has been bought”.
Following reports in multiple newspapers, the source said: “There are no barges or ferries.”
Barges ‘possible option’
Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab described barges as “one possible option”, telling Sky News that the use of hotels was acting as a “perverse incentive” to encourage crossings.
He also insisted Mr Cleverly “fully supports this policy” despite the opposition to the base in his constituency being used.
Raab told BBC Breakfast there is a “huge cost to the taxpayer” of hotel use, which he argued is acting as a “pull factor”.
He said: “We will look at the whole range of options, low-cost accommodation, ex-Army barracks and, where it’s appropriate, as has been used elsewhere in Europe, and I think in Scotland as well, vessels, if they can safely and responsibly be used.”
The Refugee Council said it was “deeply concerned” by the plans to use barges and bases, saying the suggested accommodation is “entirely unsuitable” to the needs of asylum seekers.
Enver Solomon, the charity’s chief executive, said: “These sites are wholly inadequate places to house vulnerable men, women and children who have come to our country in search of safety.
“We must ensure that people fleeing war, conflict and persecution can access safe, dignified, and appropriate accommodation while in the UK asylum system.”
Rishi Sunak told his cabinet on Tuesday the cost of using hotels and the pressure it puts on local areas meant it was not sustainable.
The prime minister later told MPs children cannot be exempted from plans to detain people who cross the Channel in small boats to prevent the creation of a “pull factor”.
Appearing before the Commons Liaison Committee, he also downplayed suggestions that flights under the government’s stalled Rwanda policy would begin this summer.
Cleverly was critical after reports first surfaced that RAF Wethersfield, near Braintree, could be used to accommodate asylum seekers.
“I highlighted the remote nature of the site, the limited transport infrastructure and narrow road network and that these factors would mean the site wasn’t appropriate for asylum accommodation,” he wrote on Facebook.
Sir Edward, the MP for Gainsborough, raised concerns about the use of Scampton, after a deal was struck to use it as part of a £300m regeneration project for the area.
A government spokesman said: “We have always been upfront about the unprecedented pressure being placed on our asylum system, brought about by a significant increase in dangerous and illegal journeys into the country.
“We continue to work across government and with local authorities to identify a range of accommodation options.”
By Sam Blewett, PA Deputy Political Editor