A local mayor is taking the Tories to court over the Bibby Stockholm – in her capacity as a resident of Portland

Bibby Stockholm is now at Portland Port
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The Bibby Stockholm refugee detention barge continues to dominate the news. It has been subject to numerous protests over recent weeks. However, a local resident in Portland – where it is now docked – is taking the Tories to court over the situation. She also happens to be the local mayor.

Bibby Stockholm: encapsulating Tory racism

As the Canary has documented, the Bibby Stockholm has been at the eye of the storm over the Tory government’s immigration policies. We previously wrote that:

the Home Office is planning to forcibly detain around 500 male refugees on the Bibby Stockholm. This is despite Dutch authorities’ alleged human rights abuses aboard the vessel when its government used it to detain refugees in the 2000s. The UK government’s plans have also prompted outrage from groups like Amnesty International.

The barge was previously moored at Falmouth in Cornwall, for refurbishment. There, it and the companies operating on it saw multiple protests from local people and groups. On 18 July it reached its final destination at Portland Port in Dorset. There, the Bibby Stockholm also saw protest from people opposed to its presence – some right-wing, some not.

On 7 August, as Sky News reported:

The first 15 asylum seekers are now on board the controversial Bibby Stockholm barge, according to the Home Office – although the government was unable to put another 20 on the vessel.

Support group Care4Calais had managed to help the 20 refugees resist the government forcing them onto the barge. According to Sky News, Care4Calais claimed that this number included:

Read on...

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people who have disabilities, people who have had traumatic experiences crossing the sea and victims of torture and modern slavery.

Protests have continued in Portland. However, so far the local authorities involved have failed to put up any resistance. So, Portland’s mayor has taken it upon herself (in a personal capacity) to take the government to court over the Bibby Stockholm.

A legal challenge

Carralyn Parkes is the mayor of Portland, a Labour councillor on Portland Town Council, and a local resident. She previously hit out at the Tories’ plans for the Bibby Stockholm. As the Guardian reported, Parkes said:

I think it’s appalling that this government would consider putting some of the most vulnerable and traumatised people on a barge in Portland port… There isn’t the infrastructure to care for them. We don’t have a hospital. We have a GP that covers up to about 14,000 people. Portland is cut off with one road on and one road off.

If they do house these people here, our council will treat them with love and respect, but it’s disgraceful that in the 21st century the government is thinking about housing asylum seekers on a barge.

Now, after Dorset Council chose not to go ahead with a legal challenge, and with Portland Town Council having no statutory authority to do so, Parkes is doing it herself.

Law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn is representing her. She will be applying for a judicial review of the Bibby Stockholm, in which the High Court will look at the evidence and decides if the government acted lawfully. Deighton Pierce Glynn said in a press release that Parkes’ legal challenge centres around the issue of planning permission. It noted that:

Dorset Council have said publicly that they consider that planning permission is not necessary for the installation, operation and use of the barge in Dorset to accommodate asylum seekers, because the barge lies below the mean low water mark, and is therefore not within the local planning authority’s jurisdiction.

Parkes disagrees. This is because the:

  1. Idea of a ‘low water mark’ as a boundary for planning permission should be “interpreted flexibly”. Parkes argues that in this instance, the Bibby Stockholm is in the local planning authority’s jurisdiction as it’s in the harbour.
  2. The Bibby Stockholm is attached to the land for electricity, sewage, and so on. Therefore, it is “effectively a permanent structure” like a pier, so does fall under planning rules.

So, she is is seeking a judicial review on the grounds that planning permission was neither sought nor granted. Parkes has published a CrowdJustice page to raise the money she needs to do this. You can read and donate to that here.

The Tories and the Bibby Stockholm: “inhuman”

Overall, as Parkes noted:

I think containing people on the barge is an inhumane way to treat those fleeing from war, conflict or persecution. The people who will be placed on the barge are NOT ILLEGAL because their asylum claims have already started to be processed by the Home Office. These people are asking for our protection, not our cruelty.

It is as simple as that. Of course, it would be too much to ask the Tory-run Dorset Council to take the government to court. So, it is down to Parkes – and the public she needs support from.

Featured image via Ashley Smith – Wikimedia, resized to 1910×1000 under licence CC BY-SA 4.0

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