Suella Braverman Denies Claims She Blocked Hotel Rooms For Migrants
Home Secretary Suella Braverman outside Downing Street (Alamy)
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has denied that she ignored legal advice urging the government to book hotels for migrants being kept at the overcrowded processing site in Manston.
Braverman, who Prime Minister Rishi Sunak returned to the Home Office just six days after she resigned for breaching the ministerial code, has been accused of choosing not to secure alternative accomodation for people at the former airport in Kent, despite warnings that she risked acting illegally.
The Sunday Times reported that Braverman had been accused of ignoring warnings that failing to sign off funding for hotel accommodation for people arriving in the UK from across the Channel was resulting in people being illegally detained at the Manston facility. Asylum seekers should be held in Manston for no more than 24 hours, but some have been there for several weeks.
Addressing the allegations in the Commons on Monday, Braverman strongly denied the claim. She said she "never ignored legal advice" on the situation, and that her department is working to find alternative accommodation to hotels for migrants to be released into.
“To be clear, like the majority of the British people, I am very concerned about hotels, but I've never blocked their usage," Braverman told MPs.
“Indeed, since I took over [as Home Secretary] 12,000 people have arrived, 9,500 people have been transferred out of Manston or Western Jet Foil, many of them into hotels, and I've never ignored legal advice.
“As a former Attorney General, I know the importance of taking legal advice into account at every point and we will work hard to find alternative accommodation to relieve the pressure.”
Braverman told MPs that the government had reached deals with 30 hotels since 6 September, creating 4,500 additional hotel bed spaces for migrants.
Not all Conservative MPs were convinced by her denial, however. One former minister told PoliticsHome they believed Braverman had "skirted around the truth" at the despatch box and that she would soon have to resign.
Earlier on Monday Lucy Moreton from the Immigration Services Union (ISU) told PoliticsHome that while alternative accomodation was sometimes available when former Home Secretary Priti Patel – who resigned in September – was in post, under Braverman "it certainly isn't there".
She said that under Patel, the system for booking hotel rooms for migrants was available "in extremis, when it was absolutely necessary," but that "it's never been this bad" at the Kent site.
"We’re told now that the contracting process to book hotel rooms has for some reason failed. Whether that has failed because there was no political will to do it, or failed for another reason, I'm not sure," she said.
“We can only process about 400 a day, and so any day we've got more than that, we're going to end up backlogging and if we can't move them on that becomes a significant problem.
"So yes, we did have hotel stock available to us from time to time, it wasn't consistent, and certainly it isn't there now.”
Moreton added that Grant Shapps – who was Home Secretary for just a few days earlier this month, between Liz Truss resigning as Prime Minister and Sunak replacing her in No 10 – "did try" to secure additional hotel space during his very short tenure, "but never delivered".
A source close to Patel stressed that while the former Cabinet minister "didn't like" the policy of finding hotel rooms for migrants, she did so because she was required to do it by law.
"Priti didn't like it but she was signing off and ensuring that hotel space was available," they told PoliticsHome.
"It was the statutory duty of the Home Secretary to provide that accommodation and Priti was signing it off. She was at pains to point that out."
The government is under growing pressure to quickly resolve the severe situation unfolding in Manston. Around 4,000 people are currently being kept there, despite the facility being designed to hold no more than 1,600, and there have been outbreaks of scabies and diphtheria.
PoliticsHome understands David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, was due to be conducting a “re-inspection of the Home Office response to small boat arrivals” this year, and is now considering the current situation at Manston and other migrant processing centres and how that impacts on the focus of his inquiry.
A former government official who was involved in efforts to tackle the small boats issue told PoliticsHome that the Home Office is "completely ill-equipped to deal with this issue".
Braverman's position was already under growing pressure over the events that led to her resigning as Home Secretary in the final hours of the Truss premiership.
Today she admitted sending official government documents to her personal mobile phone six times during her first stint as Home Secretary.
Writing to the Home Affairs Select Committee, she insisted that none of the documents "concerned national security, intelligence agency or cyber security matters, and did not pose any risk to national security," and stressed that she had apologised to Sunak before being given her old Cabinet job back.
Home Office staff are already discussing who the next Home Secretary will be amid a belief that she will not be able to stay in post for much longer, PoliticsHome understands.
The Prime Minister's spokesperson said today that Sunak had full confidence in Braverman.
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