The government has refused to rule out using remote islands to process asylum seekers despite saying the plan was too costly.
Home secretary Priti Patel reportedly scrapped plans to build an offshore migrant processing centre on the Atlantic islands of Ascension and St Helena after a review found it would be too expensive and logistically complex to do.
But, when repeatedly probed by reporters on whether the government would consider processing asylum seekers on islands in the English Channel or off the coast of Scotland, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said that the UK was considering all its options.
He said: “As part of the work that we are conducting on preventing abuse of the system and the criminality associated with it, we have been looking at what a whole host of other countries do, in order to inform a plan for the UK.
“The work is ongoing and when there is more to say on it, we will do so.”
His remarks has sparked concerns the UK may follow in Australia’s footsteps which has build offshore detention centres on the remote islands of Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
The Australian centres were determined to be in breach of international law by the International Criminal Court in January.
Earlier on Wednesday the FT reported that the home secretary ordered her staff to explore the possibility of building a processing centre on Ascension island, which is more than 4,000 miles away from the UK.
Patel is understood to have also approached the Home Office for help in examining the proposals as well.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds described the idea as “ludicrous… inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive”, adding: “If it turns out to be true, we’ll oppose it all the way.”
Refugee Action chief executive Stephen Hale said it was “deeply troubling” that the home secretary was considering the idea.
“The government must stop its unconscionable race to the bottom and work sensibly towards creating a fair and effective asylum system based on humanity, compassion and the rule of law,” he said.
A senior United Nations official told a Commons committee the Home Office should not to adopt the idea.
Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, the UK representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said: “This is the Australian model and I think we have already seen that the Australian model has brought about incredible suffering on people who are guilty of no more than seeking asylum.
“It has also additionally, I think, cost, and continues to cost, an incredible amount of money, so it seems to be both extremely inappropriate in terms of the commitments that the country should have to human rights and to asylum, but also an incredibly impractical and expensive way of doing so.”
Ascension Island Council member, Alan Nicholls, said he had no idea his island was even being considered until he was contacted by journalists for comment.
“Looking at cost and logistics, we are some 4,000-plus miles away from the UK, I would have thought it would be extremely expensive and a bit of a logistical nightmare to get asylum seekers here to Ascension because of the fact we are very isolated and I don’t think the whole thing would be very feasible, to be quite truthful,” Nicholls told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
A Home Office official said: “As ministers have said we are developing plans to reform policies and laws around illegal migration and asylum to ensure we are able to provide protection to those who need it, while preventing abuse of the system and the criminality associated with it.”