Rishi Sunak has vowed to procure “as many barges as necessary” to house asylum seekers, while the Prime Minister has deflected criticism from the Archbishop of Canterbury and some members of his own party.
Grant Shapps, the energy secretary, admitted it will be “difficult” to deliver on Mr Sunak’s five big promises – including the promise to stop the boats.
Justin Welby raised eyebrows last week when he attacked the illegal migration law as “morally unacceptable”. Bibby Stockholm A barge intended to accommodate 500 small boat people has arrived in the UK.
But Mr Sunak, responding to the most senior bishop of the Church of England, said more giant barges would be deployed, despite claims that they were “prison giants”.
“I respectfully disagree with the Archbishop on this and have spoken a great deal about it,” the prime minister said post on Sunday. “The number of illegal border crossings last year was 45,000. That number has increased four or five times in just a few years and it can’t go on like this.”
He added: “I don’t think it’s right that UK taxpayers are spending £5.5million a day to house illegal asylum seekers and that hotels in their communities are being taken over for this purpose.” So barges are a solution to this and we will make as many as necessary.”
Mr Sunak announced that he had set up a new government committee structure that will allow him to chair regular meetings on the small boat crisis. “Once we have the green light we can go ahead and implement it,” he said of the bill, which is currently before the Lords.
The Bibby Stockholm is to be docked in Portland, Dorset and will house 500 asylum seekers. Some on social media compared it to a “prison giant”, while Greens called the offshore plan “cruel, insensitive and immoral”.
Portland City Council Chairman Jim Draper said government officials had told him a bus “will let 30 people in and out at once every hour,” but the “mechanisms” by which migrants entered the city in small boats – and are allowed to drive out are unclear.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that senior Whitehall officials have advised Home Secretary Suella Braverman to abandon plans to house asylum seekers at a former RAF base in Lincolnshire.
A senior Home Office official urged Ms Braverman to halt work on the ex-serviceman due to “significant challenges to progress” in housing people at the site.
Mr Shapps said on Sunday that arrivals from Ukraine and Hong Kong may have boosted UK migration numbers as Mr Sunak’s team braces for a huge spike in net migration.
Amid speculation, the annual figure could hit a record close to one million, Mr Shapps told Sky News. “This country had a big heart. Take these two groups alone [Ukraine and Hong Kong] and it’s well over 300,000… So actually I’m pretty proud of our record.”
Mr Shapps also hinted that it might not be possible to meet Mr Sunak’s five pledges – including halving inflation, cutting NHS waiting lists and halting small boat crossings – on Sunday.
The Energy Secretary told the BBC Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg Program: “I thought it was always going to be difficult, and we’re still unconditionally committed to those five promises.”
Ministers are reportedly considering a plan to stop family members from following foreign masters students at UK universities in a bid to bring down the number. However, some Tories are said to be pushing for a raise in the wage threshold for all overseas professionals.
There is also growing concern over whether the Small Boats Act will be effective, with Brexit supporters voicing their concerns in a meeting with Chief Whip Simon Hart. “Many believe it is undeliverable and … it will be just another example of the party lying to voters,” a source said Sunday Times.
‘I don’t buy this’: Shapps condemns Priti Patel’s criticism of the Tory party
Meanwhile, former Home Secretary Priti Patel accused Mr Sunak at Sunday’s Boris Johnson Loyalist conference of the Conservative Democratic Organization (CDO) of being responsible for the “managed decline” of the Tory party.
Jacob Rees-Mogg – angered by the failure to deliver on a promise to abolish 4,000 EU laws – said it was a mistake to get rid of Mr Johnson but ousting Mr Sunak would be an “even bigger mistake”.
Mr Rees-Mogg asked Sky News what he meant when he compared Mr Sunak to the Borgias: “Everybody knows about the Borgias. I am happy with the reference. I don’t believe [Mr Sunak] is corrupt – but he broke a promise.”
But Mr Shapps said it was good that Tory colleagues were “bursting with energy and new ideas” following the grassroots backlash over the dreadful local election results. He claimed that the mood within the party was one of “iron determination”.
Meanwhile, Tory MP Andrew Lewer told Times Radio that his party was “running out of time” in convincing voters it will build enough houses. “Unless we’re more clear about the fact that we’re pro-housing… that’s going to help push people in a different direction.”