Friday, December 2, 2022

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Braverman admits ‘We failed to control the borders’

The Home Secretary has repeatedly refused to answer questions about the legal advice she received about the Manston migrant processing facility, as she has accepted that the Home Office “did not control our borders”.

Suella Braverman, appearing before Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday, was asked seven times when she was told the Home Office had “broke the law” by keeping people there too long.

So far, five legal challenges have been filed over alleged unlawful detention at the former military base, where more than 4,000 asylum seekers were held in tents last month.

The home secretary said she was “fully aware there was a crisis” when she first came to the post when Liz Truss became prime minister in September.

She said it had become “incredibly difficult to find housing” for asylum seekers to move into after leaving Manston.

When the committee’s chair, Dame Diana Johnson, pressed Ms Braverman when she was told people were being unlawfully detained, she said she was aware of “the acute need to urgently secure housing”.

The home secretary said she could not disclose the content of the government’s legal advice, but added: “In every decision I have made I have always considered legal advice… when you are suggesting that I have ignored legal advice which is not true. “

Home Office officials have admitted people should have been held in Manston for just 24 hours without a legal extension of a maximum of five days in “extraordinary circumstances”.

Dan O’Mahoney, the Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, said the lack of onward accommodation had been used as “extraordinary circumstances” for extensions, but a watchdog previously said some families had been in Manston for a month.

Ms Braverman declined to comment on questions about leaked documents, which appeared to show data in September and October telling her there was a “very high risk” of breaking the law, saying the Home Office didn’t have the power to detain people for lack of shelter and it gave “no serious legal argument” to defend the situation.

The Home Secretary said she has a “legal duty” to ensure asylum seekers are not left destitute and cannot render them homeless once they leave Manston.

Matthew Rycroft, the permanent secretary of the Home Office, told the committee Ms Braverman was “made aware of the legal situation and the policy options [for Manston] since the beginning of her tenure”.

Asked whether Grant Shapps, who was quick to source other hotels during his brief tenure as Home Secretary, had received the same legal advice, Mr Rycroft said the advice had been “consistent”, adding: “The law has not changed in certain circumstances would have changed, meaning updated legal advice was required, but the nature of legal advice has not changed.”

Blaming asylum seekers for the situation in Manston, Ms Braverman said it was not “helpful to point the finger of blame at the government”, adding: “We are responding to a problem caused by other people.”

She called the number of small boat crossings “unprecedented”, although the figures are below the Home Office’s internal forecast of 65,000 arrivals in 2022.

The processing center in Manston is currently empty, but Ms Braverman admitted this was due to “zero inflow” following bad weather in the Channel in recent days.

Conservative MP Tim Loughton told the Home Secretary there was a “lack of safe and legal routes” to avoid the need for small boat crossings.

He asked what options are available to asylum-seekers outside of the “specific groups of people” such as Afghans and Ukrainians for whom tailor-made programs are in place.

Mr Loughton presented the hypothetical situation of a 16-year-old orphan fleeing war and persecution in an African country with a sibling legally residing in the UK.

“If you can get into the UK, you can apply for asylum,” Ms Braverman said.

When asked how he would reach the UK if he did not have the means or documents to board a plane, the Home Secretary did not reply, instead asking Home Office officials on the panel to respond.

Mr Rycroft said a person “could get in touch with the UN refugee agency” to try and get an entry permit into the UK, but that was not possible in all countries.

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