Downing Street has been forced to deny that 500 asylum seekers could be placed on a controversial barge by the end of the week.
Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson issued a clarification after Home Office minister Sarah Dines appeared to suggest that was the target during an awkward radio interview.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Monday morning, Dines was asked how quickly people would be moved to the Bibby Stockholm docked at Portland Port in Dorset.
Interviewer Mishal Husain asked: “How many do you expect it then to have by the end of the week?”
The minister said: “Well, we will have to wait and see how many come in and there are extensive plans afoot. It will be a gradual and gradual upping of the numbers.”
Pressed if it would be “up to 500 by the end of the week?”, Dines said: “Yes quite possibly it will be 500. We are hoping.”
But the prime minister’s spokesperson said later this morning: “My understanding is that the Bibby Stockholm has an upper capacity of 500.
“I don’t think we are aiming to do that by the end of the week.”
It came as Sky News reported the first group of asylum seekers had arrived at the barge.
Migrants were due to go on board last week, but that was delayed after fire safety concerns were raised.
Moving people who cross the channel from hotels into barges and other facilities is a key part of Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats”.
Labour has attacked the government for its policy, but on Sunday it confirmed it would temporarily continue to house migrants on barges should it win power.