Suella Braverman is facing five legal challenges over a crisis at the Manston processing centre, but insists people taking refuge in small boats and their smugglers are to blame for the chaos.
The Home Secretary told MPs that plans to tighten the asylum system would not come before Parliament this year. His most senior civil servant has not yet signed off on a £140m deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda as “value for money”, it emerged.
The revelation was made before the Home Affairs Select Committee on Wednesday, a day before the anniversary of the death of 27 people whose boat sank in the Channel as they sought asylum in the UK.
As of the end of last month, more than 4,000 asylum seekers were held at the Kent refugee centre, which is designed to hold only 1,600 and process them within 24 hours.
some had been there for more than four weeks in a possible breach home Office law & Order. Infectious diseases spread and one person died while in custody. Insiders say any breach could cost the government millions of pounds in damages.
Braverman said the Home Office had received five pre-action letters in relation to Manston, which could lead to a judicial review to investigate who was to blame for allowing asylum seekers to build and move them into hotels went.
Home Office sources claimed on Tuesday that former home secretary Priti Patel was responsible for “blocking” the takeover of hotels during the summer – a claim that has prompted Patel to make a formal complaint to the department about hostile briefings .
When asked who was to blame for the backlog in Manston, Braverman said she did not want to “point the finger of blame” at any Home Secretary.
“I’ll tell you who’s at fault, it’s very clear who’s at fault, it’s the people who are breaking our rules, coming here illegally, exploiting the vulnerable and hurting the British people. Trying to reduce leniency – that’s the mistake,” he said.
The former military airfield near Ramsgate was empty on Tuesday after everyone had been moved to hotels.
Braverman said new legislation to deal with Channel crossings and the alleged misuse of modern slavery laws was now unlikely to come before Parliament before Christmas. “He can slip, I must say,” she said.
The Home Office permanent secretary, Matthew Rycroft, said he has not changed his mind on Boris Johnson’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda despite keeping it under “constant review”. “Circumstances haven’t changed enough for me to change my decision, which was from April that we didn’t have evidence that it would be worth the money,” he said.
MPs asked questions about the asylum system during which Braverman admitted that “we have failed to control our borders”.
Conservative MP Tim Lawton told the Home Secretary that there was a “lack of safe and legal routes” available to avoid the need for small boat crossings.
When asked how a 16-year-old orphaned refugee from Africa, who was not eligible under existing schemes, could legally reach the UK to claim asylum, Braverman could not offer an alternative and suggested that once Can claim asylum in the UK.
“How could I get to the UK if I wasn’t allowed to board a plane to come to the UK legally?” Lawton said. Braverman then passed it on to his colleagues.
Rycroft told Lawton that the 16-year-old orphan might be able to link up with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, adding: “But I accept that there are some countries where that would not be possible.”
Braverman admitted there was “poor communication” between the Home Office and councils and MPs on the use of hotels to accommodate asylum seekers.
Several councils have launched legal action against the government for failing to consult with them and local communities before moving people to hotels in their area.
In a separate appearance in the House of Commons, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick announced a new pledge to notify the local MP and local authority at least 24 hours before refugees and migrants are moved to hotels.
There are now more than 40,000 asylum seekers living in more than 100 hotels across the UK, at a cost of around £7m a day.