PEOPLE seeking asylum in the UK would be processed on decommissioned oil rigs or disused ferries moored off the coast under plans being considered by Downing Street, it has emerged.

The move has come about amid concerns by Boris Johnson's government that any plans to build the processing centres on Scottish islands would be opposed by local councils and by Nicola Sturgeon's Government which is ultimately responsible for planning laws and would oppose such a move.

It became public yesterday that Priti Patel had asked her officials to work on proposals to put such a facility on the British territory of Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, 4000 miles from the UK.

This morning the Times reported that it had been told that the Home Office held discussions about moving migrants to decommissioned oil platforms in the North Sea for processing. 

The idea of repurposing oil platforms to house migrants would face enormous logistical and safety difficulties, industry experts said. One source described the proposal as “bonkers”.

Of the 358 oil and gas platforms that have been installed in the UK North Sea to date, 47 have been decommissioned and removed, according to Oil & Gas UK, the industry body. Almost 90 more are due to be decommissioned in the coming decade and under international conventions this will require the entire structure to be removed.

The platforms due for decommissioning were typically built in the 1970s and 1980s and many are well beyond their best days. They combine cramped accommodation facilities with extensive industrial equipment.

The harsh conditions mean that the platforms are accessed via helicopter after specialist safety training. “I think people don’t realise how far off shore some of these things are — it’s not like Alcatraz where you can see it from the coast, it’s hours flying in a helicopter to get there,” the source said.

Another industry source said: “It would be so dangerous. They are designed to be as small as possible and house maybe 100 people, working shifts back to back so they share cabins.”

The Times said the idea was debated at a Whitehall brainstorming session but ministers decided that it was a “no go”. 

The plan to move asylum seekers and migrants to ships was thought more realistic and is being given serious consideration, the Times reported and is a favoured option on a list that will be presented to the Prime minister. 

There is also the possibility of building a processing centre on a Scottish island. However, there are concerns that it would be opposed by Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, and by local residents.

The First Minister made clear her opposition to such plans today.
Responding to the story about plans to put the centres on Scottish islands, she wrote on Twitter this morning: "They can rest assured that any proposal to treat human beings like cattle in a holding pen will be met with the strongest possible opposition from me."

Downing Street has briefed that Johnson wants to deter migrants from making crossings from France to the UK and that the new proposals are aimed at “preventing abuse of the system and criminality”.

The ferry option would mean that retired ferries are bought and converted into asylum-processing centres.

Downing Street also asked officials to consider sending asylum seekers to Moldova, Morocco or Papua New Guinea for processing, as well as to the south Atlantic islands of Ascension and St Helena, which are overseas British territories. 

However, it was considered by the UK Government that processing people abroad, similar to the Australian “offshore” policy, would have cost, logistics and legal and diplomatic ramifications.

A disused 40-year-old ferry can be bought from Italy for £6 million. It could house 1,400 people in 141 cabins. A disused cruise ship, at present moored in Barbados, would cost £116 million and could accommodate 2,417 people in 1,000 cabins. Converting the vessels would add to the cost significantly.

The number of people crossing the English Channel in small boats has risen sharply. By the end of August 5,000 people had arrived, more than twice the number for the whole of 2019. 

Patel has pledged to make the route “unviable” . She has told Tory MPs that the asylum system is broken and accused “leftie-supporting lawyers” of exploiting the system to keep migrants in the country.

A No 10 spokesman told the Times: “We are developing plans to reform our illegal migration and asylum policies so we can keep providing protection to those who need it while preventing abuse of the system and criminality, which, as we have seen with the rise in gang-facilitated Channel crossings, is a problem. As part of that work, we have been looking at what a whole host of other countries do to inform a plan for the UK.”

The Home Secretary is expected to address the issue in a speech at the Conservative Party conference on Sunday. She is drawing up plans for a “fairer borders bill” designed to stop delays to the asylum application process.