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Chaotic start to Rishi Sunak’s ‘small boats week’ will not be reassuring for Tory MPs or voters

It’s meant to be “small boats week”, with the Government getting on the front foot again after setbacks in its plan to stop Channel crossings.

Meaty policy announcements were lined up for Monday and Tuesday – ramping up fines for employers and landlords who allow unauthorised migrants to work for them or live in their homes, and a crackdown on “rogue immigration lawyers”.

The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge was also finally due to open, following a number of delays over fire risks and health and safety concerns.

But with Rishi Sunak on holiday in California, one “senior government source” found themselves indulging in what a Conservative MP called “overzealous briefing”, leading to headlines stating that ministers were once again looking at reviving already-rejected plans to house asylum seekers 4,000 miles away on remote Ascension Island.

It meant Home Office minister Sarah Dines’s morning broadcast round was dominated by questions, which she struggled to answer, on the volcanic Atlantic island, rather than the Government’s announcements.

Monday morning’s lobby briefing – when Downing Street fields questions from Westminster-based reporters – was also overtaken by the row and there was not a single question on the announcement on fines.

By lunchtime, the Government had all but killed the idea that Ascension Island was being looked at again.

Meanwhile, over at Portland Port in Dorset, there was more Bibby Stockholm chaos as charities claimed around 20 asylum seekers did not board the barge because their transfers were “cancelled” by lawyers, and it emerged that a coach carrying migrants there was operating without a valid MOT.

Meanwhile, Home Office figures showed the number of asylum seekers in hotels has risen by 10,000 in the last six months despite the Prime Minister’s promise to end the practice.

The sense of chaos will not reassure Tory MPs – and potential voters – that the Prime Minister’s hardline approach to his key pledge to “stop the boats” is working.

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