The desperate conditions at a Kent asylum seeker centre were caused by a “deliberate” government decision not to find hotel space, a Conservative MP has alleged.
Roger Gale accused his own government of “dog whistle politics”, suggesting the Home Office saw an opportunity to make the UK look like an unattractive destination for refugees.
Around 4,000 asylum seekers are now crammed into the site at Manston – which is designed for 1,600 people – in dire living conditions, with outbreaks of diseases including diphtheria and MSRA.
Suella Braverman, the scandal-hit home secretary, has already been accused of failing to act on legal advice, received at least three weeks ago, that the length of detention is unlawful.
But Sir Roger, whose North Thanet constituency includes the Manston processing centre, went further – suggesting the crisis had “almost been developed deliberately”.
“I was told that the Home Office was finding it very difficult to secure hotel accommodation,” he told BBC Radio 4.
“I now understand that this was a policy issue and that the decision was taken not to book additional hotel space,” he said – adding it was unclear if Ms Braverman, or her predecessor Priti Patel, took the decision.
Asked for his reaction if a home secretary had decided to send the message, ‘Don’t come because it won’t be attractive’, Sir Roger replied: “I would say that is wholly unacceptable.”
The Tory MP called for a “grown-up solution” to strike a deal with France to curb Channel crossings and then “on a pan-European basis”.
“That is the grown-up way to solve this problem. We’re not going to do it by knee-jerk dog whistle politics,” Sir Roger said.
Ms Braverman is under pressure to answer questions in the Commons about the crisis in Kent, after a separate processing centre in Dover was petrol bombed by a man who then killed himself.
However, she is expected to remain in effective hiding – amid the controversy over her breaching of the ministerial code, before her shock cabinet return – and send her deputy, Robert Jenrick, instead.
Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary, accused the government of “a collapse in professional standards in some of the basic security issues”.
“How many other security breaches have there been? How many other security lapses has she been involved in,” she demanded to know.
“There’s obviously a big question about what Cabinet Office and Cabinet Secretary advice Rishi Sunak ignored when appointing her, and also there are still these real discrepancies about the account that she’s given”.
Nick Hardwick, the former prisons inspector and parole board chair, called the situation at the Manston centre “a national disgrace”.
He tweeted: “Hundreds illegally detained on the whim of a politician. Women and children including from Iran sleeping on mats on the floors of tents for weeks as winter approaches. Diseases of the past rife. And now firebombs. Appalling.”