Anti-racist campaigners outside the Bibby Stockholm prison barge in Portland Harbour, Dorset

The government is to deploy soldiers to guard the Bibby Stockholm refugee prison barge in Portland, Dorset.

On Friday at 8am, the army intends to send in troops from a company in the 3 Rifles infantry battalion. This unit is currently one of the “UK Standby Battalions” (UKSBs). This is the force the state uses against strikes and to repress protests.

The military defines the UKSBs as “the British Army’s force of choice for operations in support of civil authorities” “Since the UKSBs were established in 2011, UKSBs have completed diverse resilience roles, including industrial action mitigation,” it says. 

“In addition, the UKSBs are assigned to support the police with specific security operations in the UK.”

The move is a combination of another vicious attack against refugees and an attempt to show that the government is “in charge of immigration”.

It comes after the Tories bitterly turned on each other about how best to be racist. Robert Jenrick quit as immigration minister on Wednesday as Rishi Sunak’s attempt to ram through the Rwanda deportation policy unleashed a backlash from within his own party.

Sunak issued a “unite or die” plea to Tory MPs along with a new bill that deems Rwanda to be a “safe” country in law. He claimed this will mean that refugees arriving in Britain, whatever they are fleeing, will not be able to make any legal claims before they are sent to central Africa.

The bill orders the courts to ignore the Human Rights Act and international law, including the United Nations Refugee Convention, when considering whether Rwanda is safe for asylum seekers.

But Jenrick said the plan was not harsh enough and there might still be a window for refugees to raise objections to their expulsion.

In his resignation letter he said he did not want to be “another politician who makes promises on immigration to the British public but does not keep them”. Jenrick has long been one of Sunak’s closest supporters.

Recently sacked home secretary Suella Braverman also wanted even more brutal laws—in order to win votes.

She said the Tories are heading for “electoral oblivion”. And then on Thursday she told the BBC, “We need to stop the boats. At the moment we are in a very perilous situation. The facts don’t lie. We need to deliver on that pledge. Looking at the reality of the challenges involved in detaining people and removing people to Rwanda the reality is that it won’t work. It will not stop the boats.”

One former Tory minister said some MPs were submitting letters of no confidence in Sunak. Sunak hoped the anti-refugee assault, coming after an attack on “legal migrants” would boost his position. Instead it has weakened him further.

Sunak announced that the plan will be in parliament on Tuesday next week at a press conference on Thursday. He said the difference between him and his Tory critics is only “an inch”. But that inch of difference is what ensures the Rwandan government will back the scheme, he said. 

The troop deployment to Dorset is Sunak “being tough”. Conditions are already appalling on the barge.

This week one of the 50 asylum seekers who have spent the past three months living on the barge said, “You can’t understand my state, nothing can calm me down.” 

In texts shown to POLITICO website by the Portland Global Friendship Group, which works to support those on board, the men describe daily life. The man quoted above says the vessel— a strictly-controlled area which residents cannot enter or leave without passing through airport-style security—is a “prison”. He likens himself to a “wingless bird” in a “cage.”

All the Tories are ramping up racism in a grubby search for votes. And Labour offers no real opposition, Instead it says that the Tories are inefficient in repelling refugees and migrants. Anti-racists need to mobilise against all of this scapegoating.

Socialist Worker contacted the Ministry of Defence, but it had not responded at the time of publication.

Join the protest “Refugees welcome, safe passage now” at the Home Office, Marsham Street, London, Monday 18 December, 5.30pm, supported by Stand Up To Racism, supported by PCS, NEU, NASUWT, TSSA unions,  XR London, Peace & Justice Project, Stop the War, DPAC, Homes4All, Stand Up To Racism and more.

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