Suella Braverman slammed for unlawful decision on migrants, says UK is facing ‘invasion’ of asylum seekers
- The home secretary decided to stop booking hotels for people being processed at a migration centre, resulting in thousands of people being detained illegally
- PM Rishi Sunak is now under pressure to sack Braverman less than a week after he reappointed her to the job she was removed from by predecessor Liz Truss
UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman took decisions to stop booking hotels for people being processed at a migration centre in southeast England, resulting in thousands of people being detained illegally, six current and former government officials directly familiar with the matter said.
Fighting back on Monday, the interior minister said that Britain faces an “invasion” from people travelling in small boats crossing the English Channel.
Speaking to parliament over allegedly failing to listen to legal advice on the prolonged detention of migrants, Braverman said the current system is “broken” and “out of control”.
“Let’s stop pretending they are all refugees in distress, the whole country knows that is not true,” she said.
Her comments came a day after a man threw petrol bombs attached to fireworks at an immigration centre in the UK before killing himself.
Braverman also faces mounting pressure after she acknowledged sending government documents to her personal email account on six occasions during her previous tenure as home secretary.
While she said in a letter to a parliamentary panel that the emails were “within permitted use”, she’s previously admitted to breaking ministerial rules by sending private government documents to a Conservative backbencher from a personal email account.
The disclosures will intensify pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to sack Braverman less than a week after he took power and reappointed her to the job she’d been removed from by his predecessor, Liz Truss, just six days earlier.
That move – taken as he sought to build a cabinet unifying the different wings of his fractious Conservatives – has already been questioned by members of the party.
Braverman’s decision during her first stint as home secretary not to book alternative accommodation for migrants at the facility in Manston, Kent, led to the centre becoming overcrowded, with hundreds of people – including children – staying for longer than the legally permitted 24 hours, a senior government official and a senior former government official said.
The centre is designed to triage arrivals and it is unlawful to detain people there for long periods of time. Two of the people familiar said Braverman’s decision represented a fresh breach of rules for ministers.
Like a car crash
Conservative MP Roger Gale, who represents the Manston area, told BBC Radio on Monday that he’d visited the facility on Sunday with Home Office Minister Robert Jenrick and had noticed a “deterioration” since his last visit in July.
“There are simply far too many people there and this situation should never have been allowed to develop, and I’m not sure that it hasn’t almost been developed deliberately,” Gale said.
“I now understand that this was a policy issue and that a decision was taken not to book additional hotel space. That’s like driving a car down a motorway, seeing the motorway clear ahead, then there’s a car crash, and then suddenly there’s a five-mile [8km] tailback. The car crash was the decision not to book more hotel space.”
Gale said the person responsible for the decision should be “held to account”.
Tensions are mounting in the UK over a jump in the number of migrants crossing the English Channel from France, despite the government’s pledge to crack down on arrivals.
The Manston centre was attacked on Sunday by a man who threw three fire bombs before killing himself. No one was injured in the incident.
The Home Office confirmed this month there had been a “very small” number cases of diphtheria at Manston. There have also been reports of scabies at the site.
The problems arose very quickly after Braverman became home secretary and stopped booking hotels for the processed migrants because of concerns about soaring costs of the policy, multiple officials said.
The number of people detained there rose from around 1,600 to more than 3,000, with many staying for long periods, one of the people said.
The decision rejected legal advice that explicitly stated that keeping people at Manston for more than just processing was against the law, the officials said.
Former Home Office minister Tom Pursglove privately warned that Braverman’s approach was breaking the law and repeatedly protested the policy internally, according to a person familiar. He was removed from the department when Braverman was reappointed last week.
Braverman was briefly replaced as home secretary by Grant Shapps after she was sacked by former prime minister Liz Truss over a separate security breach. Within hours of taking office, Shapps was made aware of the situation at Manston and reversed the hotels ban, officials said.
There is a detailed paper trail showing the decision-making process that would emerge in any coming inquiry, the officials added. it shows Braverman’s predecessor, Priti Patel continued the hotels policy, Braverman ended it, and Shapps then resurrected it, they said.
Separately, Braverman on Monday said the Home Office had identified six occasions between September 6 and October 19 when she sent official documents from her government email to her personal email address.
The findings were made in a review of her personal email use undertaken after she was ousted from her job under Truss’s leadership for wrongly shared a draft written ministerial statement.
In a letter to Labour MP Diana Johnson, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Braverman said she had shared the draft statement “by mistake” and that it did not contain any information related to national security or any market-sensitive data.
Additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse