Leaders clash over asylum seeker plan

Leaders in Wirral have clashed over controversial plans to house 1800 asylum seekers on a boat in Birkenhead after ‘serious concerns’ were raised with the Home Secretary.

Janette Williamson, who leads the Labour group and currently leads the council has written to Home Secretary Suella Braverman to voice “serious concerns” regarding plans to house 1,800 asylum seekers in Birkenhead.

She has exchanged criticism with Tory leader over the respective group’s responses to the government’s plans.

It was first revealed on April 15 that the government was considering plans to house asylum seekers on a boat close to the Wirral Waters developments in Seacombe and Birkenhead.

This comes as the government is making plans to move asylum seekers out of hotels and onto boats in an effort to reduce costs. It’s understood there is no contract currently in place and Wirral Council previously said it had a wide range of concerns about the proposal.

The plans have also sparked widespread condemnation from politicians of different parties across the Liverpool City Region.

A spokesperson for Peel Ports said, “We have been clear from the outset that any agreement to accommodate a vessel for refugees in Birkenhead will require the willing participation and full collaboration of local authorities.

“We have seen this model work over the course of last year, as we provided a berth for a vessel accommodating refugees in Glasgow. This was delivered with the full support of the local agencies working in partnership with the vessel’s management and port operations.”

In the letter outlining the local authority’s concerns, Ms Williamson said, “On behalf of all to express my profound concern at the Home Office proposal to house around 1500-1800 male asylum seekers on an “out of service ferry” in Birkenhead Docks.

“Put simply, the Wirral Peninsula, its population and key public services cannot cope with a scheme on this scale, nature, and timescale without severe impact on other services to local communities.”

Ms Williamson went on to say that Wirral had a record of supporting people arriving into the UK adding: “We have increased numbers in Wirral in response to the increased demand from asylum applications and are well on target to meet the National Plan numbers which have been set.”

The letter, sent on April 24, said, “This illustrates our commitment to provide humanitarian support to asylum seekers within a safe and properly planned environment. A ferry, housing up to 1800 young males without any sufficient local amenities is inhumane.”

The letter outlined concerns about the impact on the regeneration projects in Birkenhead, in particular Wirral Waters, and that the proposal “will at best hinder and delay this regeneration and at worst destabilise this investment.”

The letter also said Merseyside Police and the Merseyside Fire and Rescue service had voiced concerns about “the risks of civil protest and disorder in a difficult area to manage” and risks if there was an evacuation in the event of a fire.

Ms Williamson ended the letter calling it “a step too far and is completely unacceptable.”

In a seperate statement to the LDRS, Cllr Williamson also criticised Wirral Conservatives who she accused of being silent on the issue and “refusing to stand up for the people of Wirral.”

Conservative leader Tom Anderson hit back, adding, “Peel’s willingness to enable 1800 illegal immigrants on a ship, docked at Wirral Waters, is completely unacceptable.

“The Leader of the Council seems to be suffering from selective amnesia. All political leaders met with the Council’s Chief Executive on 21st April 2023 and we were all clear that the proposal is not one we can support or agree to.”

He added, “Illegal immigrants are not fleeing terror in Ukraine – they are economic migrants from France. If Councillor Williamson really wants to send a token letter, she can start by writing to Wirral’s four Labour MPs who have failed to support the plans to stop the boats and the people smugglers.”

The Labour leader responded to say: “Yet again, Cllr Anderson chooses not to hold his own party in Westminster to account. Given that he is standing down, it seems he’s wasting a last chance to petition his own party to abandon this cruel and impractical proposal, and looking around for anyone else to blame.

“The truth is this unworkable scheme has been dreamed up by his own party masters in a cynical attempt to set communities at odds and further deplete stretched resources away from their Tory shires. It’s another in a long line of Wirral Conservatives letting residents down.”

A Home Office spokesperson said, “The number of people arriving in the UK who require accommodation has reached record levels and has put our asylum system under incredible strain.

“We have been clear that the use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 51,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £6m a day.

“We have to use alternative accommodation options, as our European neighbours are doing – including the use of barges and ferries to save the British taxpayer money and to prevent the UK becoming a magnet for asylum shoppers in Europe.”

Image: Leader of Wirral Council Janette Williamson (Labour) and Tom Anderson, Conservative Group Leader

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