Senior MPs pile pressure on Suella Braverman to outline plan to fix migrant crisis
ITV News Correspondent John Ray reports
Four senior MPs have piled further pressure on the Home Secretary to explain how the Government will get to grips with the migrant crisis.
The parliamentary committee chairs have jointly written to Suella Braverman calling for clarity on how the Home Office will cut the number of treacherous small boat crossings and reduce “as a matter of urgency” the backlog in cases currently within the asylum system.
They also express their “deep concerns” over the “dire” conditions at the Manston asylum processing centre in Kent, asking what will be done to address the current situation and avoid overcrowding in future.
It comes as immigration minister Robert Jenrick has confirmed the Government has received “initial contact for a judicial review” over Manston, but said he could not confirm who is behind the challenge for legal reasons.
Rishi Sunak defended his government's handling of newly arrived asylum seekers - though he admitted "not enough" claims are being processed.
The PM came under fire at his second Prime Minister's Questions over the issue of severe overcrowding at the Manston migrant processing facility in Kent, as Sir Keir Starmer told him to "start governing for once and get a grip".
Mr Sunak described small-boat Channel crossings as a “serious and escalating problem” but insisted the government is taking action and backed Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s handling of the issue.
He said she has taken “significant steps” to address the concerns at Manston after it was reported that some people were staying up to four weeks at the facility - despite there being a legal 24-hour limit.
Outbreaks of MRSA, diphtheria and scabies were reported, while young asylum seekers being held at the facility reportedly begged for help saying they feel like they're in "prison".
Listing Ms Braverman's actions to tackle the issue, Mr Sunak told MPs: “Since September 30, more hotels with 4,500 new beds, appointing a senior general to control the situation at Manston and, indeed, increasing the number of staff there by almost a half.
“These are significant steps that demonstrate that we are getting a grip of this system.
“But this is a serious and escalating problem. We will make sure that we control our borders and we will always do it fairly and compassionately, because that is the right thing.”
Mr Sunak was challenged at PMQs by Sir Keir, who said responsibility for an asylum system which Ms Braverman described as “broken” lies with the Tories, who have been in power since 2010.
The Labour leader said just 4% of the asylum claims made by people who crossed the English Channel in small boats last year have been processed.
He added: “They’re only taking half the number of asylum decisions that they used to. That’s why the system is broken.”
“Four prime ministers in five years, it’s the same old same old. He stands there and tries to pass the blame," continued Sir Keir.
"If the asylum system is broken and his lot have been in power for 12 years, how can it be anyone else’s fault but theirs?”
The home secretary has insisted she never ignored legal advice or blocked plans to tackle overcrowding at the migrant holding centre.
She's denied accusations she failed to book hotels, which contributed to the overcrowding at Manston, and ignored legal advice which warned migrants were being detained for unlawfully long periods.
Sir Keir asked whether Ms Braverman had been given legal advice to move people out of Manston - but Mr Sunak would not comment on it.
The Labour leader shot back: “I think the answer to the question whether the home secretary received legal advice to move people out of Manston is yes – he just hasn’t got the guts to say it.”
Military personnel were involved in efforts on Tuesday to help move people away from Manston. It is unclear whether they will be taken to hotels or alternative accommodation.
It came as a young girl threw a bottle containing a letter over the perimeter fence at Manston to a photographer on Wednesday afternoon. The message in the bottle claimed there were pregnant women and sick detainees at the Kent facility.
The letter, addressed to “journalists, organisations, everyone” appeared to suggest 50 families had been held at Manston for more than 30 days.
It said: “We are in a difficult life now… we fill like we’re in prison. Some of us very sick... We really need your help. Please help us [sic].”
The letter claims there is a disabled child at the site, adding: “He’s really bad, they don’t even care about him.”
The Home Office was contacted for comment.
Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said the numbers at the site had “fallen substantially” on Tuesday, with more expected to be moved on Wednesday.
Sir Roger Gale, Tory MP for North Thanet, which includes the site, welcomed the development, having clashed with Ms Braverman about her handling of the chaos at Manston.
He praised Mr Jenrick for “rectifying the mistakes that have been made by others”, adding “this must never be allowed to happen again”.
Earlier, a Cabinet minister acknowledged that both the French and UK authorities need to do more to tackle the problem of migrants risking their lives to cross the English Channel in small boats.
Around 40,000 migrants have crossed the Channel so far this year, with Ms Braverman warning of an “invasion” on the south coast, comments which have been condemned by opponents.
Provisional government figures to date show 39,913 people have arrived in the UK after making the journey.
No crossings were recorded by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on Tuesday and 46 people arrived in one boat on Monday.
In October alone 6,912 people made the journey, with 1,065 arriving in a single day. This is the third highest monthly total this year, after 8,641 were recorded in August and 7,961 were recorded in September.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper told Sky News: “I think both countries, Britain and France, could do more. What we need to do is work with the French, they do a lot already.
“We provide resources to help them and, of course, people will know our border controls in France are actually physically located in France, and we’ve always worked in close partnership with French authorities.
“Do we think they could do more? Yes. We could do more as well. It’s about improving that partnership.”
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Meanwhile, councils in areas where asylum seekers are being housed in hotels are mounting legal action against the government, over concerns for the impact on people and businesses in their areas.
At least four authorities have taken action against the Home Office, which said it was working with councils to “find appropriate accommodation during this challenging time”.
It had previously said "record levels" of arrivals to the UK had put “unprecedented pressure” on the system - but one council that took its case to the High Court, Great Yarmouth Borough Council, said it took action due to the “absence of any meaningful dialogue” with the Home Office.
Sheila Oxtoby, chief executive of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, which won a legal case against the Home Office, said the local authority objected to having decisions about the use of hotels in tourist areas “imposed” on it.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have always, right from the beginning, offered to work with the Home Office to find the most suitable accommodation and the best solution for both the asylum seekers and the existing community – but that has largely fallen on deaf ears and our offer has not been taken up.”