Sunak defends barge plan after Archbishop condemns Illegal Migration Bill

Rishi Sunak has rejected criticism of his Government’s plan to tackle small boat crossings as he indicated ministers would use as many barges “as it takes” to resolve the issue.

The Government’s Illegal Migration Bill came under attack during the week, after the Archbishop of Canterbury weighed in to label ministers’ plans “morally unacceptable and politically impractical”.

The Prime Minister, in an interview with the Mail on Sunday only days after a difficult set of local elections, defended his “stop the boats” strategy as well as plans to house migrants on barges.

Illegal Migration Bill
Justin Welby condemned the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill (PA)

The Bibby Stockholm barge arrived in Falmouth, Cornwall, earlier this week, where it will undergo an assessment and refurbishment.

The vessel, which will house around 500 migrants, is then expected to be moved into position at Portland Port in Dorset in the next few weeks.

Mr Sunak, speaking to the newspaper, said: “Barges are a solution… and we will do as many as it takes.”

Asked about Justin Welby’s remarks in the Lords, he said: “I respectfully disagree with the Archbishop on this and I’ve spoken about it a lot.

“The number of illegal crossings last year was 45,000. That number has gone up four or five times in just a couple of years and it can’t carry on like this.”

“I don’t think it’s right that the British taxpayers are forking out £5.5 million a day to house illegal asylum seekers, that hotels in their communities are being taken over for this use. So barges are a solution to that and we will do as many as it takes.”

The Prime Minister said that he had put in place a new committee structure, modelled on the Covid-19 pandemic response in government, to tackle the issue.

“We want to deliver that Bill and what I can tell you is that I’m not waiting for that moment to happen. We are getting ready now.

“So, we have put in place a new government committee structure, a bit like how we ran things during the pandemic, where I chair meetings twice a week so that we can get everything ready so that from the moment we have the green light we can crack on and deliver it.”

Southampton v Fulham – Premier League – St. Mary’s Stadium
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (centre) was in the stands during the Premier League match at St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton, on Saturday (Adam Davy/PA)

In the same interview, the Prime Minister responded to the concerns of Tory Brexiteers, who have been angered by the ditching of the Government’s promise to complete a post-Brexit “bonfire” of remaining EU-era laws by the end of the year.

Some of those concerns were raised at the Conservative Democratic Organisation conference in Bournemouth over the weekend, with a backlash to the decision from pro-Brexit Conservative MPs in Westminster.

“I voted for Brexit, I campaigned for Brexit, I believe in Brexit and when I was Chancellor I started to deliver some benefits of Brexit,” he told the paper.

“What I can tell you is what I delivered as Chancellor was quite significant. I am someone who doesn’t just talk about things, I’m someone who delivers things.”