A LABOUR think tank director has apologised after “poorly-judged” comments about sending people-smuggling gangs on a barge to Scotland.

Josh Simons, director of the influential Keir Starmer-linked Labour Together think tank, came in for fierce criticism after suggesting people smugglers could be put on a barge and shipped “up to the north of Scotland”.

Labour Together holds considerable sway within the party. Its former director Morgan McSweeney is now Starmer’s key elections strategist.

Simons drew ire when speaking on LBC on Monday night, when he said his “main concern with Rwanda is not actually the human rights implications of it” but his belief the asylum seeker deportation scheme would not work.

He added: “I think that while the Conservatives say that they are being tough on the borders and beefing up the 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.

“I mean, you know, why don’t you send the smuggler gangs and put them on the barge that you know has been set aside for the asylum seekers and then, you know, ship the barge up to the north of Scotland, who cares?”

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National contributor Owen Jones (below) said: “The contemptuous way he talks about Scotland as though being sent there is some sort of gruesome punishment is another.”

The National: Owen Jones (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Now Simons has apologised for his comments, saying: “I love the country.”

He tweeted: “Following my comments on LBC last night, I apologise for any negative insinuation about Scotland.

“I’m half Scottish, I love the country and it is where much of my family comes from. It was a poorly judged comment made in jest and doesn’t reflect my views, or the views of the Labour Party.

“I was seeking to draw attention to the immorality of housing asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution on a barge while smuggler gangs get off free under the Conservatives.”

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Asylum seekers are being housed on the Bibby Stockholm barge off the Dorset coast. Albanian asylum seeker Leonard Farruku died of a suspected suicide on the barge last year.

MPs from the cross-party Home Affairs Committee and Joint Committee on Human Rights have raised concerns that cramped, overcrowded conditions on the barge are damaging the mental health of people kept there by the Government.

Scottish Labour have attempted to distance themselves from Simons’s comments, calling them “ludicrous”.

A party spokesperson said: “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's views do not represent the Labour Party.

“People making stupid comments like this are best ignored.

“Labour will scrap the Tories’ immoral and unworkable Rwanda plan and tackle criminal gangs.”