Bibby Stockholm debacle fires Tory fury at ‘incompetent’ Home Office

Policy & Politics Whitehall

Conservative MPs are furious with the Home Office over the Bibby Stockholm fiasco after legionella bacteria was detected on board the controversial barge being used to house asylum seekers.

All 39 asylum seekers have been evacuated from the barge, just five days after being moved on to the vessel that is docked at Portland, South Dorset.

Officials said the evacuation is a “precautionary measure”. No one on board has yet tested positive for Legionnaires disease – which can take up to 16 days for symptoms to emerge.

Among the questions being asked by senior Conservative MPs are why the Home Office moved asylum seekers on to the barge before results of bacteria tests were confirmed and why a further six people were boarded after officials were made aware of Legionella bacteria being present on the Bibby Stockholm.

Questions over the future of the Home Office itself are escalating and “could renew calls for it to be split up, according to the Telegraph

The paper quotes a senior Tory MPs who called the calamity an “embarrassment” that smacked of “incompetence” while another senior Conservative said: “Small boats week has turned into Carry On Up the Channel week.”

Former minister and member of the Commons home affairs committee Tim Loughton said the Bibby Stockholm evacuation is “deeply troubling, and rapidly turning into a farce that the Home Office can ill afford.

“Given the importance of the project, it was important that every risk assessment was performed before the people were put on the barge. Given the delays, there are serious questions as to why they were not done and what comeback there is on the contractors or whoever is responsible for signing it off for habitation.”

Pressure is mounting on home secretary Suella Braverman as calls escalate to scrap the controversial barges-for-migrants plan completely.

The Labour party said the fiasco is part of a “catalogue of catastrophe” with shadow immigration secretary Stephen Kinnock saying it is “extraordinary” proper checks were not conducted before boarding asylum seekers.

“It’s absolutely right that the barge has to be evacuated, but what a complete and utter shambles. This is a catalogue of catastrophe, and government ministers should hang their heads in shame,” Kinnock told Sky News.

The affair is hugely embarrassing for Rishi Sunak’s government at the end of its “small boats week” to underline the government’s hardline approach to asylum seekers.

Conservative party deputy chairman Lee Anderson set the tone for the week on Monday when he said migrants unwilling to live on a barge “should fuck off back to France”.

Anderson was backed by Downing Street but then admitted his government has failed to tackle the illegal immigration crisis.

More embarrassment followed when a Home Office drone – cost £400,000 – used to monitor small boats crossing the Channel crossed into the sea.

Yesterday (August 10 saw the biggest ever number of migrants arriving by small boats on a single day, with 755 recorded taking the total number since records started in 2017 past 100,000.

Meanwhile the Telegraph reports the Conservative party fears losing s many as 30,000 members due to a combination of a hike in membership fees and disillusionment with the government’s policies.

The “membership drop could be as high as 16%” if the “worst fears are realised”. Membership fees are set to rise by more than 50% – from £25 to £39 in January. The party also wants payments to be made by direct debits rather than standing orders “giving them the ability to raise prices more easily”. However, members currently paying standing orders “are expected to drop off.”

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