Rishi Sunak says two more barges will be used to house 1,000 asylum seekers

Rishi Sunak has announced the UK will use two more barges to house around 1,000 asylum seekers as the Government comes under pressure over Conservative pledges to reduce net migration.

In a speech in Kent today, the Prime Minister said his plan to tackle small boats crossing the English Channel is working, but there is still “work to do”.

He said the numbers making the crossing were down by around a fifth since last year, and a returns deal with Albania had led to 1,800 people being sent back.

Mr Sunak also defended measures to house asylum seekers on barges – with the first one set to be moored in Portland, Dorset, within a fortnight, and the announcement of two more to house another 1,000 people.

He said: “Before I launched my plan in December, the number entering the UK illegally in small boats had more than quadrupled in two years. Some said this problem was insoluble, or just a fact of 21st century life.

“They’d lost faith in politicians to put in the hard yards to do something about it. And of course, we still have a long way to go. But in the five months since I launched the plan, crossings are now down 20% compared to last year.

“This is the first time since this problem began that arrivals between January and May have fallen compared to the year before.

“With grit and determination, the Government can fix this and we are using every tool at our disposal.”

Mr Sunak declined to say where there two new barges would be moored, although there has been widespread speculation one could be based on Merseyside.

He also defended the requirement for asylum seekers to share hotel rooms, following protests outside accommodation in Pimlico, London.

“If you’re coming here illegally, claiming sanctuary from death, torture or persecution, then you should be willing to share a taxpayer-funded hotel room in central London.

“To reduce pressures on local communities, we’ll also house people on ships, the first will arrive in Portland in the next fortnight and we’ve secured another two today that will accommodate another thousand.”

Analysis of provisional Home Office data by the PA news agency suggests that as of June 3 some 7,610 people had been detected crossing the channel, compared with 9,954 at the same point in 2022 – a 23.5% decrease.

But crossings are heavily influenced by the weather and the summer months typically see higher numbers making the journey.

Asked whether windy conditions in the Channel – and subsequently fewer small boats – were the reasons behind the timing of his visit to Dover, Mr Sunak said: “There’s many things I can control, the weather is not one of them. I wish it was so.”

The Prime Minister also defended the inclusion of children in new detention rules, claiming that to exempt them would create an “incentive” for smugglers to put more young people on boats.

He insisted that “appropriate facilities” were in place for families to be kept together “properly and fairly”.

“I think it would be a mistake to exclude children because it would create an incentive for people to put more children on the boats and that would be awful,” he said.

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the promise of further measures to tackle the crisis was “like Groundhog Day” as crossings continue this year despite the Prime Minister’s pledge to “stop the boats”.

He told reporters in Somerset: “I think everybody wants to make sure that we stop the boats, we don’t want people making that dangerous journey.

“All we’ve really had from the Government though is the announcement of a policy that doesn’t work and then the reannouncement of the same policy, essentially.

“It often feels, I think, like Groundhog Day and meanwhile that’s costing a fortune for the taxpayer and there’s this growing sense of frustration.”