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Labour government could continue using barges to house asylum seekers

Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, has indicated her party could use barges to clear the backlog.

Asked by reporters after a speech in Westminster, Ms Cooper declined to say she would end their use despite criticism from refugee groups.

She said: “What we want to see is the backlog cleared so that the Government doesn’t need to use the hotels or other alternatives, and we can simply focus on the long-standing asylum accommodation that has always been there.”

Read more: Labour are on a high but can they land the plane?

Pressed again if Labour would continue to use barges, she said: “The action we will take is to rapidly clear the backlog and to take action to speed up the system.

“We will take action to clear the backlog. We’ll have to address what we inherit at that time because at the moment it is so chaotic what the Government is doing.”

She made clear she thinks the UK Government’s “failure” to deal with the issue may be “increasing the backlog”.

It comes as MPs prepare for a fresh clash with the House of Lords over the Illegal Migration Bill.

A barge set to house 500 asylum seekers is on the move as Parliament prepares for further arguments over Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman’s plans to “stop the boats”.

Plans to house migrants on the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland Port, Dorset, are a month behind schedule but the vessel has finally left Falmouth in Cornwall, where work on it was being carried out to prepare it for its new role.

Read more: Labour leads Tories in poll on immigration as figures set to show migration rise

Members of the Lords want further concessions on limits to the detention of children, modern slavery protections and the provision of safe and legal routes for refugees to the UK.

The Lords inflicted a string of fresh defeats on the UK Government last week over the much-criticised Bill, which ministers insist is integral to efforts to tackle small boats crossings in the English Channel.

The Commons had overturned a raft of earlier revisions by the unelected chamber of peers, despite rebellions by Tory MPs – including former prime minister Theresa May – who have concerns about the reforms.

The Bill is part of a package of measures designed to deter migrants from crossing the channel by making it clear that if people enter the UK by irregular means, they will not be able to remain and will face being sent either to their home country or a third country such as Rwanda.

The deal to send migrants on a one-way trip to Rwanda has been mired in legal difficulties and will end up in the Supreme Court.

Read more: Small boats: The Illegal Immigration Bill  – explained

With a backlog of asylum cases in the UK, the Tory Government is also seeking to cut the cost of hotel bills by using alternative accommodation including the Bibby Stockholm and former military bases.

Councils and campaigners have been given the green light to bring a High Court challenge against housing migrants on the disused airfields.

Braintree District Council and a nearby resident are bringing legal action to challenge the use of Wethersfield in Essex to house up to 1,700 men while West Lindsey District Council is challenging similar plans for RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire.

Dozens of asylum seekers have already been moved into Wethersfield.

The first asylum seekers are expected to board the Bibby Stockholm later this month.

Home Secretary Ms Braverman had told MPs on June 5 that the vessel would be in Portland within a fortnight, but this deadline was missed.

Dorset Council has been given a £2 million funding package to meet the cost of providing services for the Bibby Stockholm residents.

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