Thursday, 29 Oct 2020

Home Office ‘considers floating wall in Channel to stop migrant crossings’

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Experts have been asked to come up with ideas to “inhibit passage to UK territorial waters” amid concerns over would-be asylum seekers attempting the dangerous journey. The idea of the barrier is one of a series of controversial projects Home Secretary Priti Patel has asked officials to explore with the issue of migrants using small boats having risen almost fivefold on last year.

Another option discussed was to use Ascension Island – more than 4,000 miles away – as an asylumprocessing centre.

Other leaked documents showed officials have considered such centres on disused ferries or even decommissioned oil platforms in the North Sea.

Proposals to vet asylum seekers on islands around the UK – including the Shetland Islands, the Isle of Wight or the Isle of Man – were also being given serious consideration.

Yesterday, a leaked email from industry trade body Maritime UK on September 17 revealed that the Home Office was launching a consultation to identify potential solutions to “the small boats challenge”.

It revealed the Joint Security and Resilience Centre, part of the Home Office, was working with the Border Force and Dan O’Mahoney, the Clandestine Channel Threat Commander.

Those bodies are seeking a “discreet reachingout” to shipping organisations to explore options such as “marine fencing and other waterbased technologies” to block boats.

A similar plan would have placed boats in the Channel with pumps, generating waves that would force dinghies back into French waters.

Home Office plans were criticised for being “in the realms of cloud cuckoo land”.

The Public Accounts Committee was told 9,500 asylum seekers are currently in 91 hotels in about 50 local authority areas.

Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft refused four times to confirm to the MPs if Ascension Island was being considered.

He said: “The civil service is here to give ministers impartial, fearless, honest, expert, independent advice. The system works when we do it in private.

“What I can confirm is that the civil service has been responding to ministers’ questions about how other countries deal with migration.

“This is in the realm of the brainstorming stage and, I think as ministers have said in the House, everything is on the table, and so it should be at this stage of the policymaking process.”

Mr Rycroft said the Cabinet Office is investigating the leaks. Downing Street said the wave machine “won’t be happening”.

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