UK: Migrant barge to remain empty for weeks due to fire safety concerns, but ministers cry foul play

By Thomas Brooke
3 Min Read

Fire safety concerns by trade unions pertaining to the housing of asylum seekers on a floating barge recently docked at an island in the south of England are politically motivated, a U.K. government minister has claimed.

Oliver Dowden, who currently serves as deputy prime minister in the Conservative government, told BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Thursday that the Fire Brigade Union’s claim that the Bibby Stockholm barge, chartered by the government to relocate hundreds of asylum seekers from luxurious hotels, could be a floating “death trap,” may be linked to the union’s political views and sympathies with the opposition Labour party.

“Of course, we’ll take into account those concerns, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Dowden told listeners.

“I would just gently say the Fire Brigades Union has donated £850,000 to the Labour party since 2010. It is affiliated with the Labour party, and I’m afraid what we see with this is exactly what we saw with trying to pass the legislation earlier this year through parliament. There are many obstacles.

“We’re confident that we will be able to address all of the concerns.”

The minister added that he was “absolutely certain” that asylum seekers would embark on the vessel “in the coming weeks,” but refused to give a more definitive timeframe.

The Bibby Stockholm barge is now docked on the isle of Portland in the English county of Dorset. The Home Office agreed to relocate approximately 500 migrants from hotels across the country to the barge despite vociferous opposition from local residents.

Following the announcement of the barge’s use to house migrants back in April, local Conservative MP, Richard Drax, criticized his own government’s decision, claiming the barge had been “dumped on our door” by the Home Office. He refused to rule out legal action against the department, but this never materialized.

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Some Conservative politicians now believe that opponents to the government are seeking to thwart attempts to relocate migrants on the barge in a bid to undermine Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s administration.

Energy Secretary Grant Shapps rejected the Fire Brigade Union’s claims that the barge was a “death trap” earlier this week, revealing that the barge had previously been used to house migrants by both the German and Dutch governments.

“There’s no reason why it wouldn’t be absolutely safe,” he insisted.

The barge has also historically been used to house oil rig workers in the North Sea without problem.

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