Suella Braverman has been accused by a Conservative MP of deliberately causing the overcrowding of a migrant processing centre amid growing questions around her strategy for dealing with people crossing the Channel in small boats.
Sir Roger Gale, whose constituency includes Manston processing centre, said it has been turned into a “refugee camp” by a “car crash” policy decision by the home secretary to suspend a search for hotel accommodation for new arrivals.
Braverman denied being behind any decision not to find hotels for people seeking asylum, claiming she had “worked hard” to find alternative accommodation for those held in Manston.
The clash came after police confirmed that a man threw petrol bombs attached to fireworks at a new Border Force immigration centre near Dover. The suspect was found dead nearby.
Gale, the MP for North Thanet, said Manston was working efficiently until last month when there was a sudden backlog of people not being moved out to Home Office-acquired hotel and hostel accommodation.
Addressing MPs, he said: “That facility operated absolutely magnificently and very efficiently indeed until five weeks ago, when I’m afraid the home secretary took the policy decision not to commission further accommodation and it is that that has led to the crisis at Manston.
“Will [she] now give the house an assurance first that the adequate accommodation will be provided to enable the Manston facility to return to its previous work?”
The MP, who visited the accommodation on Sunday with Braverman’s junior minister, Robert Jenrick, demanded she gave assurances that adequate housing would be found for those being held.
He said: “Will she honour the undertaking given by [the former home secretary Priti Patel] and [the former Home Office minister Tom Pursglove] who have indicated that this would be a temporary facility handling only 1,500 people a day and that it would not be a permanent residence and will she give a further undertaking that under no circumstances will Manston be turned into a permanent refugee camp?”
The Manston short-term holding facility, on a disused airfield near Ramsgate in Kent, opened in January so that those who arrive by small boats can be subjected to security and identity checks. Detainees are meant to be held there for a maximum of 24 hours before they are moved on to longer-term accommodation.
Ministers have admitted that the centre, which can ordinarily cope with 1,600 people, has housed more than 4,000 people, and some families with young children have been held for more than 32 days.
Braverman, who appeared before the Commons to make a statement about the firebombing, denied the claim. She said: “On no occasion have I blocked the procurement of hotels or alternative accommodation to ease the pressure on Manston. I’m afraid that simply isn’t true.
“At every point I have worked hard to find alternative accommodation to relieve the pressure at Manston. What I have refused to do is to prematurely release thousands of people into local communities without having anywhere for them to stay.”
Home office sources have claimed that Braverman was behind a decision to halt the search for accommodation.
Sources close to Patel have said that she found hotel accommodation for people seeking asylum until she left the post in September.
Earlier, a government minister appeared to say that Braverman had played a role in blocking accommodation.
Speaking to Sky News on Monday, the environment minister Mark Spencer acknowledged that Braverman had “put the block” on housing asylum seekers in Manston in hotels, saying it was because she wanted to “process them quickly”.
Other senior Conservatives expressed deepening concern at the crisis at Manston and what it meant for government policy.
Caroline Nokes, a former Conservative immigration minister, said she was horrified at the “chaos” at Manston, which would end in multiple legal claims against the government.
“This creates an absolute legal minefield for the government that is going to end up costing them more money.
“This begins to look like a system in absolute chaos. And ultimately it’s going to be the individual asylum seekers who suffer, the British taxpayer who suffers, and the Home Office’s reputation for dealing with people in a fair and even-handed manner is going to be absolutely in tatters,” she told GB News.