In their search for an illegal migration ‘Plan B’, the government began the week by promoting the idea of sending asylum seekers 4,000 miles away from the UK to Ascension Island. But just a day later, this looked more like fantasy island as another lunatic scheme by the Home Office began to fall apart
Home to 900 residents and no hospital, the remote British overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean was touted in a Daily Mail exclusive on Monday as a possible home for refugees to be processed should the courts continue to frustrate Suella Braverman’s cruel dream of sending them to Rwanda. A government spokesman described the plan to “cover all possibilities” as the “right and sensible thing to do – and it’s what our voters would expect of us.”
But problems with the Ascension Island idea soon emerged – like the fact that it had been mooted, and ruled out, as a processing centre for migrants in 2021. When asked why a policy deemed unviable by the government only two years again was being revisited, Home Office minister Sarah Dines told Times Radio, “times change”.
But thankfully, facts do not change. The Times is reporting that any plans to site migrants to the strategically important island will be resisted by both the Ministry of Defence and the United States.
The only airfield on the island is one jointly operated by the Royal Air Force and the US Space Force, meaning plans to charter private or commercial flights to and from there have been rejected. Currently, the only way to access the remote volcanic island is on an RAF flight with a 15-seat capacity and one Whitehall source told the paper: “The RAF will want nothing to do with it.” They added that since the RAF is legally responsible for anyone setting foot on one of their aircraft it is unlikely that they would take migrant flights on, “especially when these people will be unwilling to go”.
The US is said to be deeply concerned about the prospect of migrant flights to and from a base which provides vital radar functions for rocket launches and is also the location of one of six GPS monitoring sites for the RAF.
Jacob Rees-Mogg has also shared his reservations about the plans. A Cabinet minister when Ascension Island was first ruled out, he said on his GB News show that it was “impossibly expensive”, costing a vast £1 million per migrant.
He said: “You’ve got to send out Portakabin residences for your builders, then you’ve got builders who have to live there while they’re doing the building, then you have to build the premises for the migrants to live in, then you’ve got to persuade people that they want to go and live on Ascension Island for long periods to run the centre.”
Locals will also oppose any move to revive a scheme first suggested by Priti Patel. In 2020, a member of the island’s council said the plans would prove a “logistical nightmare” and had been received poorly by residents.
Meanwhile, on Monday the first 15 migrants boarded the Bibby Stockholm barge. The government has said they want numbers up to 50 and then onto its full capacity of 500, yet this is still a mere 1% of the 50,546 asylum seekers currently in hotels. And that figure, as pointed out by The Mirror, is up by 10,000 since December, when Rishi Sunak announced he planned to bring an end to illegal migration.