Newly unsealed National Archives have revealed the then PM’s right-hand man Jonathan Powell had suggested sending applicants to the isle, inspired by Australian migration rules that resemble the present government’s Rwanda policy.
Blair had told aides their ideas for dealing with rising asylum applications – over 8,000 in October 2002 – were ‘not good enough’, before Mr Powell highlighted the suggestion of using the threat of detention on Mull as a deterrent in January 2003.
‘Flabbergasted’ locals who spoke to MailOnline today said the plan would have been ignorant of local concerns, and would have used the remote Hebridean community as a means of keeping the problem removed from the rest of the UK.
Mr Powell’s paper, entitled Asylum: The Nuclear Option, took inspiration from Australia’s migration policy, which detains illegal entrants to the country in one place until their application has been assessed.
He claimed the Aussie rules had driven down applicant numbers ‘enormously’ and even led to some asking to return to their country of origin. The plan bears a similarity to the present plan to detain asylum seekers in Africa.
But residents of Mull have hit out at the idea of the isle – known best for the rainbow-hued homes along the coast in the capital, Tobermory and for its appearances in BBC children’s series Balamory – being used as a deterrent.
Brian Swinbanks, a founding member of the Tobermory Harbour Association and a resident of the island for decades, said the notion of displacing people to Mull, which has a population of just 3,000, was ‘ridiculous’.
Mr Swinbanks, a 79-year-old still in work, added: ‘I was flabbergasted – where did they get the idea from? It’s the lack of consultation for me. I’d be disappointed if there was no consultation.
‘It would have also been very unfair on people coming from warmer climates. We love this climate, but you have to be a special kind of breed to live here.
‘We all love it if you like fishing and going out to sea, but the idea of displacing people to Mull is ridiculous.’
A manager at the local post office, who gave her name as Wendy, said: ‘It sounded as though Mull would be used as a dumping ground.
‘What would all these people do here? They would just be hanging about, there would be nothing for them to do.
‘I don’t think it would do much for the area, and I don’t think it would have been very fair on the people.
‘There would be enough jobs for them, there wouldn’t be a lot to do.’
Wendy added that there was a feeling among locals that the area was used as a wider ‘dumping ground’ by the government, citing the placement of the UK’s nuclear missiles at the Faslane naval base around 50 miles away.
She continued: ‘It feels like a suggestion of using Mull as a dumping ground because it’s far away, a bit like putting the nuclear bases up north (in Scotland).
‘It is if it’s just out of sight, out of mind. It wouldn’t just be Nimbys (stopping the plan) – it’s as though it wasn’t looked at sensibly at all.’
Another local shop worker, who asked not to be named, slammed the ‘sleekit’ – sneaky – manner in which the discussions were held.
She said: ‘I was appalled to hear this this morning. Locals would not have been happy.
‘I can’t hate people that have done nothing wrong, but if you’re going to bring people in (to Mull) would the government have listened to local people with concerns? I doubt it.’