Keir Starmer has slammed proposals currently being considered by Downing Street and the Home Office to establish floating asylum centres on disused ferries moored off the UK coast as “inhuman”.
In an interview with BBC News today, the Labour leader responded to reports that the government is considering the idea of buying old ships and converting them into asylum-processing centres.
Reacting to the policy suggestion from the Tories, he told the BBC this afternoon: “This isn’t creative thinking… These suggestions are inhuman and the government shouldn’t be pursuing them.
“Everybody knows that the biggest problem with asylum seekers’ claims is that it takes a long time for the Home Office to process them, that’s the problem, it’s been there for years. Get your house in order, get that sorted out, instead of lurching from one ridiculous proposition to another.”
The Labour leader called for better international cooperation to address displacement, adding: “There is of course an issue with people trying to get to the UK, but people are fleeing often from persecution.”
His comments come after reports emerged overnight that the UK and French governments are working on proposals to “prevent abuse of the system and criminality”, and that this is just one option being considered by Downing Street.
Another possible idea put forward involved moving people to decommissioned oil platforms in the North Sea for processing, and was debated at a Whitehall brainstorming session before government ministers decided that it was a “no go”.
No 10 has also asked the Home Office to consider sending asylum seekers to Moldova, Morocco or Papua New Guinea, and to the south Atlantic islands of Ascension and St Helena, while having their applications assessed.
Starmer also discussed the local lockdown strategy being used to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and said that local areas going into a lockdown need a “roadmap” as to how they will see those restrictions removed.
Commenting on the Covid strategy, Starmer said: “Over the weeks and months, only one area has come out of these restrictions and so we need a strategy – a roadmap. People need to have hope that this is going to work…
“It also, of course, needs to massively improve the communications. And the other thing that is missing now is you’ve got local restrictions going in, but no economic support – and they need to be brought together.”
Starmer called for a “rapid review of the local lockdowns” and pointed out that in some of the areas with additional restrictions, infections are actually increasing and that some places have been in lockdown for months.
He added: “There needs to be a rapid review: what’s working, what isn’t working? What does the science tell us about that? People need to know what is the exit strategy from this.”
The Labour leader reiterated the call, which he has made several times including during Prime Minister’s Questions this week, for a support package for businesses and people not able to work while lockdowns are in place.