The Home Secretary is touring immigration centres in Kent as she battles to get a grip on the chaos in the asylum system amid international criticism over her claim the UK faced an “invasion” of migrants.
Suella Braverman, who took the trip from Dover in a Chinook military helicopter, met Border Force teams on Thursday to discuss Channel crossings operations and then went to the Manston processing centre to speak to staff and receive an update on the overcrowding crisis.
Downing Street defended Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s use of a military helicopter during her visit to Dover.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: “The Home Secretary was in Dover to receive an update on operations on the ground.
“That obviously involved operations in the Channel.
“She travelled on a military aircraft to see the area of operations at sea.”
She has come under mounting political pressure over the illegal conditions at the site near Ramsgate, where around 3,500 people are being detained for weeks in a site intended to hold 1,600 for a matter of days.
Government minister Graham Stuart conceded the site was not operating legally and “none of us are comfortable with it”, while he also acknowledged there had been “unfortunate language” used to describe the crisis following the condemnation of Ms Braverman’s comments.
But he sought to blame an “unacceptable surge” in small boat crossings for the problem, adding that the “system is struggling to cope”.
The Home Secretary shied away from press questions during her morning visit to Western Jet Foil in Dover – the scene of a petrol bomb attack on Sunday – amid concerns of rising far-right activity fuelled by the failure to control the number of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats.
But Chancellor Jeremy Hunt insisted she is prepared to “face the music” over the migrant crisis despite avoiding taking questions from the media.
Ms Braverman arrived during a heavy downpour of rain, accompanied by a large entourage of staff. Witnesses said she spent about half an hour at the facility – where migrants are first taken after arriving on the south coast – during which time she was shown around by Border Force staff and briefly boarded a docked patrol vessel.
She then met the Dover coastguard before heading to Manston in the afternoon, where she arrived in a Chinook helicopter before getting into a black BMW vehicle to pass the gates into the site.
Downing Street said that while she was there she would “speak with staff and receive an update on the situation on the ground”.
During a visit to a theatre in Carshalton, south London, Mr Hunt was asked why Ms Braverman is not, like him, taking interviews during her visit. He replied: “The Home Secretary did a number of public appearances this week in Parliament.
“She’s been prepared to face the music this week and I’m sure you’ll continue to have a chance to ask her questions.”
Meanwhile, lawyers on behalf of charity Detention Action and a woman held at Manston are threatening legal action against the Home Secretary over the conditions.
The charity said an urgent pre-action letter, sent to the Home Office on Tuesday, represented the first action against Ms Braverman around the “unlawful treatment” of people held at the facility.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick previously confirmed the Government had received “initial contact for a judicial review” over Manston but stressed the move was “not unusual” as it concerned a “highly litigious area of policy”.
We do plan to negotiate similar deals with other countries, akin to the Rwanda partnership, but it’s not helpful for us to comment on speculation around potential discussions
Downing Street spokeswoman
It comes as the prime minister of Albania accused Britain of becoming like a “madhouse” with a culture of “finding scapegoats” during a migration crisis where “failed policies” are to blame.
Edi Rama hit out at Ms Braverman’s “crazy” choice of language in a combative Commons debate this week, where she claimed there was an “invasion on our southern coast”.
Downing Street said it is “extremely grateful” for Albania’s co-operation on the migrant crisis. A spokeswoman added: “We have a strong working relationship with them, which we would want to continue to build on.”
Albanian nationals made up to over a third of small boat arrivals this year, with rising crossings putting “unprecedented pressure” on the UK asylum system, she said.
The spokeswoman did not deny the Government was also trying to strike Rwanda-style deals with Belize, Peru and Paraguay.
“We do plan to negotiate similar deals with other countries, akin to the Rwanda partnership, but it’s not helpful for us to comment on speculation around potential discussions,” she added.
The grim conditions at Manston were laid bare in a letter thrown by a young girl over the perimeter fence to a PA news agency photographer, claiming there were pregnant women and sick detainees there.
The note, written in broken English and addressed to “journalists, organisations, everyone”, appeared to suggest 50 families had been held there for more than 30 days.
Asylum seekers were also reportedly left at London’s Victoria station without accommodation after being taken off the premises.
The group of 11 men were driven to the capital from Kent on Tuesday as part of a larger group, according to The Guardian.
Danial Abbas, from the Under One Sky homelessness charity, said the men were left “highly distressed, disorientated, lost” in London, with “nowhere to go”.
Mr Abbas told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that someone from the Home Office “put his hands up on behalf of the Home Office and said ‘this has been a massive error, let’s get this sorted ASAP’”.
Mr Abbas said that “very quickly a solution was found” and the group was taken to a hotel in Norwich.
Four parliamentary committee chiefs piled further pressure on the Home Secretary to explain how the Government will get a grip on both the situation at the Kent facility and the migrant crisis in general.
In a joint letter to Ms Braverman, the chairs of the Home Affairs Committee, Justice Committee, Joint Committee on Human Rights and Women and Equalities Committee expressed their “deep concerns” over the “dire” conditions at Manston, asking what will be done to address the current situation and avoid overcrowding in future.
Council chiefs in Kent have warned the county is at “breaking point” as a result of the migrant situation, with the potential for disorder at Manston and the risk of far-right violence.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has described the migrant crisis as a “serious and escalating problem” and admitted that “not enough” asylum claims are being processed, but insisted the Government is getting a grip on the situation.