PRIME Minister Rishi Sunak has defended the UK Government’s decision to accommodate migrants on the Bibby Stockholm barge - despite deadly bacteria being found on the vessel.

The PM claimed that the UK Government’s approach to housing asylum seekers was cheaper than housing them in hotels.

It comes after six migrants sadly died after attempting to cross the Channel after a boat sank on Saturday. 

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The first migrants were housed on the barge off the Dorset coast on Monday last week but were removed on Friday after traces of Legionella were found in the water supply.

The bacteria can cause the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease.

Sunak swerved a question about whether he was personally warned about potential health risks for asylum seekers on board the barge.

Speaking to journalists on a visit to a hospital in Milton Keynes, Sunak said: “What has happened here is it is right that we go through all the checks and procedures to ensure the wellbeing and health of the people being housed on the barge.”

The National:

Sunak (above), who has just returned to work after a family holiday in California, went on to argue that ministers were taking a fair approach when it came to the small boats crisis, adding: “But taking a step back, what is this about? This is about fairness.

“It is about the unfairness, in fact, of British taxpayers forking out £5 million or £6 million a day to house illegal migrants in hotels up and down the country, with all the pressure that puts on local communities.

“We’ve got to find alternatives to that, that is what the barge is about and that is why we are committed to it.

“But more fundamentally, we’ve just got to stop people coming here in the first place illegally. That is why one of my five priorities is to stop the boats.

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“We’ve passed tough new laws that, when they come into force, will enable us to do that and we’re already seeing numbers this year that are lower than they have been in previous years.

“That is the first time that has happened.

“I know there is a long way to go on this but I’m determined to fix this problem and we are making progress and people can be reassured we will keep at it.”

It comes after health minister Will Quince had earlier suggested migrants could return to the barge within days, describing the Legionella scare as a “teething issue”.

But he said migrants will only return to the vessel, moored in Portland Port, Dorset, if it is safe to do so.

The National:

Newspaper reports have meanwhile suggested that Brussels has rebuffed calls for a returns agreement between the UK and the EU.

It would mean the UK is unlikely to be able to send people arriving on small boats across the Channel back to France in the near future.

Sunak has pushed for a bilateral returns agreement with Paris but French President Emmanuel Macron believes any deal must be at an EU level.

A leaked memo reported by the Daily Mail and The Times newspapers suggests such a pact is not being entertained by Brussels, which is dealing with its own internal rows over migration and refugee returns reforms.

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Citing leaked Cabinet Office notes, The Times said a senior aide to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had rejected negotiations on fresh terms following a push by Sunak during talks at the Council of Europe in Iceland in May.

A spokeswoman for the commission denied that any rejection had been made during talks with UK officials.

Quince stressed the UK had made other international efforts to grasp the migrant crisis, including an agreement with Turkey to tackle criminal gangs, the French arrangement on preventing crossings, and the Albania returns deal.

He told Sky News: “If you look at the arrangements that we do have with Turkey, with Albania, and indeed with the French, they are starting to bear fruit and then, more widely, if you look at the deterrent factor, again that is making a difference.”