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by Louise Wilson
13 February 2024
Put smugglers on a barge and send them to Scotland, Labour think tank chief says

The Bibby Stockholm is currently housing asylum seekers in Dorset | Alamy

Put smugglers on a barge and send them to Scotland, Labour think tank chief says

The head of a Labour think tank has suggested smuggler gangs should be “put on a barge” and sent to the north of Scotland.

Josh Simons, director of Labour Together, was criticising the UK Government’s policy to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda while speaking to LBC.

He dubbed that scheme a “complete waste of money” and insisted it “won’t stop the boats”.

But he went on to say: “Why don’t you send the smuggler gangs and put them on the barge that has been set aside for the asylum seekers, and then ship the barge up to the north of Scotland for all I… you know, who cares?”

The comments come ahead of Scottish Labour hosting its spring conference in Glasgow this weekend.

The party has sought to distance itself from the comments, with a spokesperson saying: “Every party has elements on the fringes that give them moments of cringe. This is a ludicrous comment and we couldn’t be clearer Josh Simons’ views do not represent the Labour Party.”

The clip has sparked angry reactions from SNP parliamentarians, with home affairs spokesperson Alison Thewliss tweeting: “That Labour respect agenda for Scotland in full flow... and it’s not even the first time they’ve made a suggestion like this over the years.”

Stewart McDonald MP said: “The mask slips – showing that Labour’s decades-old arrogance when it comes to Scotland has never gone away. Now the director of ‘Labour Together’ thinks Scotland should be a dumping ground for people traffickers. ‘Who cares?’ he asks. I think a great many will care.”

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill is currently undergoing scrutiny at the House of Lords, having been passed in the Commons last month.

It is expected to face significant opposition from peers, who have concerns that the legislation breaches human rights law.

The bill was introduced after the Supreme Court ruled last November that the scheme was unlawful. Judges said the policy would leave those sent to Rwanda open to human rights breaches, with few safeguards in place to prevent this.

The bill aims to counter that ruling by pronouncing the country safe, as well as allowing the UK Government to ignore injunctions from the European Court of Human Rights which would block removals.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights, which consists of members from both the Lords and Commons, concluded in a report published on Monday that the bill was “fundamentally incompatible” with the UK’s human rights obligations.

The chair of the committee, SNP MP Joanna Cherry said: “This bill is designed to remove vital safeguards against persecution and human rights abuses, including the fundamental right to access a court. Hostility to human rights is at its heart and no amendments can salvage it.”

Simons said that his “main concern” was not the “human rights implications” of the policy but the rising costs.

He added: “I think that while the Conservatives say that they are being tough on the borders and beefing up policing and so on, I have seen no real evidence that that is in fact what they are doing with the kind of commitment and clarity that they need to.”

He has since apologised for him comments, writing on Twitter: “Following my comments on LBC last night, I apologise for any negative insinuation about Scotland... It was a poorly judged comment made in jest and doesn’t reflect my views, or the views of the Labour Party.”

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