Suella Braverman 'ignored advice' that she was breaking the law by keeping migrants for weeks in disease-ridden centres

29 October 2022, 22:01 | Updated: 31 October 2022, 15:38

Suella Braverman is under renewed pressure over the housing of migrants
Suella Braverman is under renewed pressure over the housing of migrants. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Suella Braverman ignored legal warnings that the Home Office was breaking the law by keeping asylum seekers in overcrowded, disease-ridden processing centres for too long, according to reports.

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The recently reinstated home secretary was told at least three weeks ago that migrants were being kept in overcrowded centres in Manston, in Kent, for unlawful lengths of time, the Sunday Times reported, citing five sources.

Migrants are not supposed to be kept in the processing centres for more than 24 hours under UK laws, while they undergo initial checks. Some 2,600 migrants have been kept for more than four weeks in the centres - only designed to house 1,600.

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People thought to be migrants arriving in Manston
People thought to be migrants arriving in Manston. Picture: Alamy

The alleged legal breach piles even more pressure on the embattled Ms Braverman, who was only brought back to the job this week, a few days after leaving because of a data breach.

Ms Braverman was allegedly told that she needed to resolved the breach quickly by rehousing the asylum seekers elsewhere.

The alleged breach could be set to cost the taxpayer "millions" if the migrants are granted asylum and take legal action.

A government source said: “The government is likely to be JR’d [judicially reviewed] and it’s likely that all of them would be granted asylum, so it’s going to achieve the exact opposite of what she wants.

Some 38,000 people have already made the perilous Channel crossing this year
Some 38,000 people have already made the perilous Channel crossing this year. Picture: Getty

"These people could also launch a class action against us and cost the taxpayer millions.”

Civil servants also allegedly warned Ms Braverman that the Home Office would very likely lose a legal challenge, and there could be a public inquiry if the issue came to light.

The processing centres have now suffered a breakout of the bacterial disease dipthheria, as well as the skin condition scabies.

Many of the migrants have come to the UK over the English Channel in recent weeks in small boats. The number of people crossing the Channel this way has skyrocked in recent years, with more than 38,000 this year alone. The backlog of asylum processing claims has reached 100,000.

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Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the problems were evidence of the government failing to prepare.

David Neal, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, told the home affairs select committee, a group of MPs that scrutinises the activities of the Home Office, that he was shocked by the “wretched conditions” migrants are living in in Manston.

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Sources told the Times that Ms Braverman had allegedly deliberately chosen not to sign off enough alternative accommodation to cut down on the £6.8 million bill the government was facing to house asylum seekers.

A government source said: “When they get there, people are supposed to be processed and then released. They have their biometrics taken and should be sent to accommodation paid for by the Home Office, which means a hotel, or they are granted immigration bail.“

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"They can only hold someone if there is a reasonable prospect of their removal from the country in a sensible timeframe.“She was refusing to sign off on bail or pay for hotels which means she was illegally detaining people. There is no legal grounds for them to be detained.

"Officials have been put in an impossible position because they can’t release people without Suella releasing the money. This has been going on for more than three weeks.”

A fourth source said they believed Braverman could have broken the ministerial code again in the process, just over a week since she stepped down for a data breach.

Migrants sail after boarding a smuggler's boat
Migrants sail after boarding a smuggler's boat. Picture: Getty

A spokesperson for the Home Office did not deny that the law had been broken, but said: "The home secretary has taken urgent decisions to alleviate issues at Manston and source alternative accommodation.

"It is right that we look at all available options so decisions can be made based on the latest operational and legal advice.”

It comes after reports that Ms Braverman was "in denial" and "amazed" at being forced to resign as Home Secretary after she committed a security breach - despite claiming to have owned up to her mistake.

Ms Braverman, who was reappointed Home Secretary by Rishi Sunak this week, just six days after leaving the position under former Prime Minister Liz Truss, tried to play down the security breach at first, the BBC has reported.

Migrants carry a smuggling boat on their shoulders as they prepare to embark
Migrants carry a smuggling boat on their shoulders as they prepare to embark. Picture: Getty

Mr Sunak, who promised professionalism and integrity under his premiership, is now facing questions about why he reappointed Ms Braverman from his own party, as well as Labour.

The Prime Minister has defended his decision to give Ms Braverman her job back, saying that she "made an error of judgment, but she recognised that, she raised the matter and she accepted her mistake".

Ms Braverman resigned after sending a draft ministerial statement on immigration from her personal email address to a parliamentary ally, the Conservative MP Sir John Hayes.

She meant to copy in Sir John's wife but instead allegedly sent the document to an aide of a third MP, John Percy, the BBC reported. Mr Percy raised the issue with the chief whip, who then told No.10 and the Cabinet office about the breach.

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak has defended his decision to reappoint Ms Braverman. Picture: Getty

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One source told the BBC that "initially [Ms Braverman] was in a state of denial" when Ms Truss later told her that she would have to resign.

"She was saying it's a minor thing," the source said.

Another person familiar with the matter said that Ms Braverman was "amazed" that she was being told to step down.

A source close to Ms Braverman has denied this account, saying that the Home Secretary communicated the breach "proactively" in the "official channels".