Suella Braverman: Bibby Stockholm barge is safe amid legal challenge possibility

Suella Braverman has insisted that the Bibby Stockholm barge is safe after firefighters raised the possibility of legal action over concerns about the safety of those on board.

It comes as the Home Secretary declined to rule out reports the Home Office is considering fitting asylum seekers arriving in the UK via unauthorised means with electronic tags.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has sent a “pre-action protocol letter” to Ms Braverman outlining its concerns over safety aboard the vessel moored in Dorset’s Portland Port.

The union previously branded the giant barge, initially designed for about 200 people but modified to house 500 migrants, a “potential death trap”.

The first asylum seekers placed on board Bibby Stockholm earlier this month were removed days later after tests revealed Legionella – the bacteria which can cause the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease.

The FBU is demanding a response to its legal letter by Thursday.

“Let me be clear that I’m confident barges are safe,” Ms Braverman told broadcasters.

“This barge has accommodated people in the past – asylum seekers, oil rig workers and barges of this kind have been used to accommodate asylum seekers, for example in Scotland, so I’m very confident that this barge is safe for human habitation.

“We followed all of the advice and protocols in anticipation of embarkation.”

She accused the trade union of launching a “political attack” on the Government but was unable to say when asylum seekers would be returning to the barge.

The Home Secretary also said ministers were considering all options after The Times said officials are mulling electronic tagging as a way to prevent migrants who cannot be housed in limited detention sites from absconding.

The Illegal Migration Act places a legal duty on the Government to detain and remove those arriving in the UK illegally, either to Rwanda or another “safe” third country.

However, as spaces in Home Office accommodation are in short supply, officials have been tasked with a “deep dive” into alternatives, according to the newspaper.

While the preferred solution is to increase the number of detention places, electronic tagging has been mooted, as has cutting off financial allowances to someone who fails to report regularly to the Home Office.

Home Office data this week showed Channel crossings topped 19,000 for the year so far, despite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge that he will “stop the boats”.

The asylum backlog has soared to a record high, with more than 175,000 people waiting for an initial decision on an asylum application at the end of June, with the bill for the taxpayer almost doubling in a year to nearly £4 billion.

Some senior Tories have pushed for the Government to commit to leaving the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) if the Rwanda scheme continues to be blocked.

Ms Braverman stopped short of saying the UK should leave the international court on Monday, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “My personal views are clear. It’s a politicised court. It’s interventionist.

“It’s treading on the territory of national sovereignty. But no-one’s talking about leaving the ECHR right now.

“We’re working to deliver our plan. We’ve enacted landmark legislation. We are confident in the lawfulness of our agreement with Rwanda.”